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Ask Slashdot: How To Pick Up Astronomy and Physics As an Adult?

timothy posted 7 minutes ago | from the productive-member-of-socety dept.

Space 1

First time accepted submitter samalex01 (1290786) writes "I'm 38, married, two young kids, and I have a nice job in the IT industry, but since I was a kid I've had this deep love and passion for astronomy and astrophysics. This love and passion though never evolved into any formal education or anything beyond just a distant fascination as I got out of high school, into college, and started going through life on more of an IT career path. So my question, now that I'm 38 is there any hope that I could start learning more about astronomy or physics to make it more than just a hobby? I don't expect to be a Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I'd love to have enough knowledge in these subjects to research and experiment to the point where I could possibly start contributing back to the field. MIT Open Courseware has some online courses for free that cover these topics, but given I can only spend maybe 10 hours a week on this would it be a pointless venture? Not to mention my mind isn't as sharp now as it was 20 years ago when I graduated high school. Thanks for any advice or suggestions."

Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the help-me-please dept.

IT 300

An anonymous reader writes I use email to communicate with my folks overseas. Their ISP only allows dial-up access to their email account (there is no option of changing ISP), that can receive messages no larger than 1MB nor hold more than 15MB (no hope of changing that either). They are computer-illiterate, click on everything they receive, and take delight on sending their information to any Nigerian prince that contacts them, "just in case this one is true". Needless to say, their PC is always full of viruses and spyware. In my next yearly visit, instead of just cleaning it up, I'd like to gift them with some "hardened" PC to use for email only that would hopefully last the year before someone has to fix it. So far, these are the things I have in mind:

  • Some kind of linux distro, or maybe even mac. Most viruses over there are windows only and propagate via Autorun.inf or by email attachments, not having Windows could prevent both.
  • Some desktop environment that hides anything unrelated to connecting to the net and accessing their account (dial-up software, email client, web browser, exchanging files between their hard disk/email attachments and USB drives). By "hide", I just want the rest to be out of the way, but not entirely removed, so that if necessary, I can guide them over the phone. For this, Ubuntu's Unity seems like a particularly bad solution, but a Gnome desktop with non-removable desktop shortcuts (is this possible?) for the file manager, browser, email client and dial-up program could work. An android system is unlikely to work (they have no wifi, and they were utterly confused with Android's UI).
  • This could be a life saver: some kind of extension to the email client that executes commands on specially formatted emails (e.g., signed with my private key), so that I can do some basic diagnostics or install extra software if I have to. This las point is important: they currently rely on acquaintances who may not be competent (they can't evaluate that) if something happens between my visits. They, most likely, wont know how to deal with anything non-windows, so all tech support would fall on me. (This is the reason I haven't moved them from windows yet.)
  • Another very useful extension would be something to automatically re-assemble attachments split into several emails, to overcome the 1MB message limit.

Does any of that exist? If I have to build that system myself (or parts of it), do you have other suggestions? For the inevitable and completely reasonable suggestion of getting someone competent for tech support: I've tried that too. The competent ones don't last beyond the third visit.

Ask Slashdot: Have You Experienced Fear Driven Development?

Soulskill posted yesterday | from the sunk-cost-fallacy-is-a-thing dept.

Programming 223

nerdyalien writes: A few years back, I worked for a large-scale web development project in southeast Asia. Despite formally adopting Agile/Scrum, development was driven based on fear imposed by managers. Scott Hanselman defines Fear-Driven-Development as having three parts. 1) Organizational fear has "worried about making mistakes, breaking the build, or causing bugs that the organization increases focus on making paper, creating excessive process, and effectively standing in the way of writing code." 2) There's also fear of changing code, which comes from a complex, poorly-understood, or unmaintainable codebase. 3) The most common one is fear of losing your job, which can lead to developers checking in barely-functioning code and managers committing to a death march rather than admit failure. My project ran four times its initial estimation, and included horrendous 18-hour/day, 6 day/week crunches with pizza dinners. Is FDD here to stay?

Ask Slashdot: Any Place For Liberal Arts Degrees In Tech?

timothy posted 2 days ago | from the be-the-legacy-hire dept.

Education 389

Nerval's Lobster (2598977) writes A new article in Fast Company suggests tech CEOs want employees with liberal arts degrees, because those graduates have critical thinking skills. Meanwhile, a new article on Dice (yes, yes, we know) posits that STEM degrees such as data science, IT admin, and electrical engineering are what science-and-tech companies are going to want for the foreseeable future. What do you think? What place do those with liberal arts degrees have in companies such as, say, Tesla or a biomedical engineering firm?

Ask Slashdot: What To Do After Digitizing VHS Tapes?

samzenpus posted 3 days ago | from the now-what? dept.

Media 265

An anonymous reader writes Now that I've spent close to a month digitizing a desk drawer's worth of VHS tapes, deinterlacing and postprocessing the originals to minimize years of tape decay, and compressing everything down to H.264, I've found myself with a hard drive full of loosely organized videos. They'll get picked up by my existing monthly backup, but I feel like I haven't gained much in the way of redundancy, as I thought I would. Instead of having tapes slowly degrade, I'm now open to losing entire movies at once, should both of my drives go bad. Does anyone maintain a library, and if so, what would they recommend? Is having them duplicated on two drives (one of which is spun down for all but one day of the month) a good-enough long term strategy? Should I look into additionally backing up to optical discs or flash drives, building out a better (RAIDed) backup machine, or even keeping the original tapes around despite them having been digitized?

Ask Slashdot: Advice On Building a Firewall With VPN Capabilities?

timothy posted about a week ago | from the thick-pipes-and-sturdy-valves dept.

Networking 238

An anonymous reader writes "I currently connect to the internet via a standard router, but I'm looking at bulking up security. Could people provide their experiences with setting up a dedicated firewall machine with VPN capabilities? I am a novice at Linux/BSD, so would appreciate pointers at solutions that require relatively little tweaking. Hardware-wise, I have built PC's, so I'm comfortable with sourcing components and assembling into a case. The setup would reside in my living room, so a quiet solution is required. The firewall would handle home browsing and torrenting traffic. Some of the questions knocking around in my head: 1. Pros and cons of buying an off-the-shelf solution versus building a quiet PC-based solution? 2. Software- versus hardware-based encryption — pros and cons? 3. What are minimum requirements to run a VPN? 4. Which OS to go for? 5. What other security software should I include for maximum protection? I am thinking of anti-virus solutions."

Ask Slashdot: What Smartwatch Apps Could You See Yourself Using?

Soulskill posted about a week ago | from the an-app-that-gives-it-infinite-battery-life dept.

Software 471

An anonymous reader writes: It's official: the smartwatch wars have begun. Apple's announcement of the Apple Watch added a contender to the race already shaping up between the Pebble watch, the Moto 360, and others. Personally, my doubts about wanting one were put to rest when I learned of the health-related features. Smartwatches will be able to track your movements and pulse rate, calculate how many calories you burn, and coach you continuously to improve your fitness.

If you have one or plan on buying one, what apps or functions do you see yourself getting the most use from? If you're still skeptical, what would it take? (If an app developer sees your requirements here on Slashdot, your wish might come true.)

Ask Slashdot: Robotics or Electronic Kits For Wounded Veterans?

timothy posted about two weeks ago | from the least-we-could-do dept.

Education 115

An anonymous reader writes I am currently a combat veteran in the care of the VA Hospital. A lot of veterans here suffer from PTSD and other injuries related to combat and trauma. As part of the healing process, the VA finds it good that we take up hobbies such as art or music, and they supply us kits and stuff to put together and paint. This is great, but many of us younger veterans have an interest in robotics and electronics. Do you know of some good and basic robotic and electronic kits that can be ordered or donated to Veterans out there? Any information would be appreciated.

Ask Slashdot: Best Service To Digitize VHS Home Movies?

timothy posted about two weeks ago | from the nod-is-as-good-as-a-wink dept.

Media 130

An anonymous reader writes Could someone recommend a service to convert old VHS home movies to a lossless archival format such as FFV1? The file format needs to be lossless so I can edit and convert the files with less generation loss, it needs 4:1:1 or better chroma subsampling in order to get the full color resolution from the source tapes, and preferably it should have more than 8 bits per channel of color in order to avoid banding while correcting things like color, brightness, and contrast.

So far, the best VHS archival services I've found use either the DV codec or QuickTime Pro-Res, both of which are lossy.

Ask Slashdot: Remote Server Support and Monitoring Solution?

timothy posted about two weeks ago | from the how-would-you-do-it? dept.

Software 137

New submitter Crizzam writes I have about 500 clients which have my servers installed in their data centers as a hosted solution for time & attendance (employee attendance / vacation / etc). I want to actively monitor all the client servers from my desktop, so know when a server failure has occurred. I am thinking I need to trap SNMP data and collect it in a dashboard. I'd also like to have each client connect to my server via HTTP tunnel using something like OpenVPN. In this way I maintain a site-site tunnel open so if I need to access my server remotely, I can. Any suggestions as to the technology stack I should put together to pull off this task? I was looking at Zabbix / Nagios for SNMP monitoring and OpenVPN for the other part. What else should I include? How does one put together a good remote monitoring / access solution that clients can live with and will still allow me to offer great proactive service to my servers located on-site?

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Strangest Features of Various Programming Languages?

Soulskill posted about two weeks ago | from the object-disoriented-programming dept.

Programming 729

itwbennett writes: Every programming language has its own unique quirks, such as weird syntax, unusual functionality or non-standard implementations -- things that can cause developers new to the language, or even seasoned pros, to scratch their heads in wonder (or throw their hands up in despair). Phil Johnson has rounded up some of the strangest — from the + operator in JavaScript to the trigraphs in C and C++ and indentation level in Python. What programming language oddities cause you the most grief?"

Ask Slashdot: the State of Free Video Editing Tools?

timothy posted about two weeks ago | from the what-are-you-happy-with? dept.

Graphics 163

New submitter Shadow99_1 writes I used to do a lot of video editing (a few years ago, at an earlier job) and at that time I used Adobe Premiere. Now a few years later I'm looking to start doing some video editing for my own personal use, but I have a limited budget that pretty well excludes even thinking about buying a copy of Adobe Premiere. So I ask slashdot: What is the state of free (as in beer or as in open source) video editing tools? In my case... I support a windows environment at work and so it's primarily what I use at home. I am also using a camcorder that uses flash cards to record onto, so for me I need a platform that supports reading flash cards. So that is my focus but feel free to discuss video editing on all platforms. I've been looking forward to the Kickstarted upgrade to OpenShot; based on the project's latest update, early versions of an installer should start appearing soon. Video editing is a big endeavor, though, and ambitious announcements and slipped schedules both seem to be the norm: an open-source version of Lightworks was announced back in 2010. Some lighter open-source options include Pitivi (raising funds to get to version 1.0) and Kdenlive, also in active development (most recent release was in mid-May). Pitiviti's site links to a sobering illustration about many of the shorter- and longer-lived projects in this area.

Ask Slashdot: Linux-Friendly Desktop x86 Motherboard Manufacturers?

Soulskill posted about two weeks ago | from the roll-your-own dept.

Operating Systems 294

storkus writes: The release of Haswell-E and a price drop on Devil's Canyon has made me itch for a PC upgrade. However, looking around I discovered a pair of horror stories on Phoronix about the difficulties of using Linux on a multitude of motherboards. My question: if MSI, Gigabyte, Asus (and by extension Asrock) are out, who's left and are they any good? I'd like to build a (probably dual-boot, but don't know for sure) gaming and 'other' high-end machine with one of the above chips, so we're talking Z97 or X99; however, these stories seem to point to the problems being Windows-isms in the BIOS/UEFI structures rather than actual hardware incompatibility, combined with a lousy attitude (despite the Steam Linux distro being under development).

Ask Slashdot: Best Phone Apps?

Soulskill posted about three weeks ago | from the there's-an-app-for-picking-apps-that-pick-apps dept.

Cellphones 167

An anonymous reader writes: The phone app ecosystem has matured nicely over the past several years. There are apps for just about everything I need to do on my phone. But I've noticed that once an app fills a particular need, I don't tend to look for newer or potentially better apps that would replace it. In a lot of areas, I'm two or three years out of date — maybe there's something better, maybe not. Since few people relish the thought of installing, testing, and uninstalling literally hundreds of apps, I thought I'd put the question to the Slashdot community: what interesting, useful new(ish) apps are you aware of? This can be anything from incredibly slick, well-designed single purpose apps to powerful multi-function apps to entertainment-oriented apps.

Ask Slashdot: What Old Technology Can't You Give Up?

Soulskill posted about three weeks ago | from the don't-touch-that-dial dept.

Technology 635

An anonymous reader writes: It's the year 2014, and I still have a floppy drive installed on my computer. I don't know why; I don't own any floppy disks, and I haven't used one in probably a decade. But every time I put together a PC, it feels incomplete if I don't have one. I also have a Laserdisc player collecting dust at the bottom of my entertainment center, and I still use IRC to talk to a few friends. Software, hardware, or otherwise, what technology have you had a hard time letting go? (I don't want to put a hard limit on age, so you folks using flip-phones or playing on Dreamcasts or still inexplicably coding in Perl 4, feel free to contribute.)

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Best Games To Have In Your Collection?

Soulskill posted about three weeks ago | from the you-have-died-of-dysentery dept.

Classic Games (Games) 382

SternisheFan writes: I am not a "gamer," per se. I grew up on "old school" arcade/Atari-type games. My question is: What are the very best games to own? Let's assume platform is irrelevant — any console, any computer, any operating system, any mobile device. I'd just like to know what you think are the most indispensable games to have in your collection. Let's expand this to include board games and other tabletop games as well. What games do you make sure to always have on hand for get-togethers?

Ask Slashdot: What To Do About Repeated Internet Overbilling?

timothy posted about three weeks ago | from the hey-these-guys-did-it-to-me-too dept.

AT&T 355

An anonymous reader writes "AT&T has been overbilling my account based on overcounting DSL internet usage (they charge in 50 gigabyte units after the first 150). I have been using a Buffalo NFinity Airstation as a managed switch to count all traffic. As you may know, this device runs firmware based on dd-wrt and has hidden telnet functionality, so I am able to load a script to count traffic directly onto the device. I have an auto-scraper that collects the data and saves it on my computer's hard disk every two minutes while the computer is running. While it is not running, the 2 minute counters accumulate in RAM on the device. Power problems are not normally an issue here; and even when they are I can tell it has happened. The upshot of all this is I can measure the exact amount of download bandwidth and a guaranteed overestimate of upload bandwidth in bytes reliably. I have tested this by transferring known amounts of data and can account for every byte counted, including ethernet frame headers. AT&T's billing reporting reports usage by day only, lags two days, and uses some time basis other than midnight. It is also reading in my testing a fairly consistent 14% higher whenever the basis doesn't disturb the test by using too much bandwidth too close to midnight.

AT&T has already refused to attempt to fix the billing meter, and asserts they have tested it and found it correct. Yet they refuse to provide a realtime readout of the counter that would make independent testing trivial. I've been through the agencies (CPUC, FCC, and Weights & Measures) and can't find one that is interested, AT&T will not provide any means for reasonable independent testing of the meter. It is my understanding that if there is a meter and its calibration cannot be checked, there is a violation of the law, yet I can't find an agency that can even accept such a claim (I'm not getting "your claim is meritless", but "we don't handle that"). If indeed they are not overbilling, my claim of no way to verify the meter still stands. My options are running thin here. So that my account can be identified by someone who recognizes the case: 7a6c74964fafd56c61e06abf6c820845cbcd4fc0 (bit commitment).

Slashdot Asks: How Prepared Are You For an Earthquake?

timothy posted about three weeks ago | from the hey-man-what's-the-exoskeleton-for? dept.

Earth 191

With three earthquakes of some significance in the news this weekend (Chile, California, and Iceland), it seems a good time to ask: If you live in an area of seismic danger, how are you prepared for an earthquake (or tsunami, mudslide, or other associated danger) and how prepared are you? Do you have a stash of emergency supplies, and if so, how did you formulate it? In the U.S. alone, it's surprising how many areas there are with some reasonable chance of earthquakes, though only a few of them are actually famous for it — and those areas are the ones where everything from building codes to cultural awareness helps mitigate the risks. I'm not sure I'd want to be in a skyscraper in Memphis or St. Louis during a replay of the New Madrid quakes of 1811-1812, which is probably worth worrying about for those in the region. Beyond personal safety, do you have a plan for your electronics and data if the earth starts shaking?

Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

timothy posted about three weeks ago | from the will-take-credit-for-the-nobel-prize dept.

Space 187

I am interested in a telescope for the use of some elementary and middle school aged relatives. Older and younger siblings, and parents, would no doubt get some scope time, too. Telescopes certainly come in a range of prices, from cheap to out of this world, and I am purely a duffer myself. But I enjoy looking at the moon and stars with magnification, and think they would, too. What I'm trying to find might be phrased like this: "the lowest priced scope that's reasonably robust, reasonably accurate, and reasonably usable for kids" -- meaning absolute precision is less important than a focus that is easy to set and doesn't drift. Simplicity in design beats tiny, ill-labeled parts or an incomprehensible manual, even if the complicated one might be slightly better when perfectly tuned. I'd be pleased if some of these kids decide to take up astronomy as a hobby, but don't have any strong expectation that will happen -- besides, if they really get into it, the research for a better one would be another fun project. That said, while I'm price sensitive, I'm not looking *only* at the price tag so much as seeking insight about the cluster of perceived sweet spots when it come to price / performance / personality. By "personality" I mean whether it's friendly, well documented, whether it comes intelligently packaged, whether it's a crapshoot as to whether a scope with the same model name will arrive in good shape, etc -- looking at online reviews, it seems many low-end scopes have a huge variance in reviews. What scopes would you would consider giving to an intelligent 3rd or 4th grader? As a starting point, Google has helped me find some interesting guides that list some scopes that sound reasonable, including a few under or near $100. (Here's one such set of suggestions.) What would you advise buying, from that list or otherwise? (There are some ideas that sound pretty good in this similar question from 2000, but I figure the state of the art has moved on.) I'm more interested in avoiding awful junk than I am expecting treasure: getting reasonable views of the moon is a good start, and getting at least some blurry rings around Saturn would be nice, too. Simply because they are so cheap, I'd like to know if anyone has impressions (worth it? pure junk?) of the Celestron FirstScope models, which are awfully tempting for under $50.

Ask Slashdot: Where Can I Find Good Replacement Batteries?

Soulskill posted about a month ago | from the they're-a-myth dept.

Power 131

An anonymous reader writes: I have an old phone with a battery that barely works anymore. My current phone's battery is mediocre — I can put up with it, but I've been thinking about getting a new one. My four-year-old ThinkPad holds less of a charge than I'd like, and less than it did when I bought it. In all these cases, the only thing holding me back from buying a new battery is that I'm not sure where to find a good one. Searching for my phone's battery on Amazon (or any major online retailer) yields a dozen results, all fairly cheap. But which are reliable? They all seem to have varying reviews, ranging from "Perfect official factory replacement!" to "Garbage knock-off, worse than the battery I replaced." Part numbers don't seem to help, as the knock-offs replicate those pretty well. I ask you, Slashdot: where can I find a good replacement battery?

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