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* Posts by Michael H.F. Wilkinson

2490 posts • joined 24 Apr 2007

166 days later: Space Station astronauts return to Earth

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Pint

Welcome back to earth!

Bet they would like a quick vodka to warm up in those chilly temperatures.

I spotted the ISS passing over last Saturday during an outreach activity of the university's observatory, and it never ceases to amaze me to think that there are people on that man-made dot in space.

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Samsung narrows counter-claim against Apple in US

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Joke

Re: Judge Lucy Koh

At least it is easy to remain impartial if you feel both parties are tiresome into the extreme

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NASA to programmers: Save the Earth and fatten your wallet

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Interesting announcement

I think I might set up a team of students here.

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SACRILEGE! Hitchhiker's Guide game's back ... and it TWEETS at you

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Joke

Re: A nice cuppa

No, it will be a cup filled with a liquid which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Thank you the marketing department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation

Share and Enjoy!

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Bletchley Park board member quits amid TNMOC split-off spat

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Mushroom

This lack of colaboration is a disgrace

Pure and simple.

I really feel somebody needs to bang some heads together and tell both trusts to act in the interest of the public, not in the interests of overinflated egos. I am not laying blame on any particular side (as I do not know enough of the details), but they should sort things out in a grown-up manner and get on with the work of preserving and presenting an essential part of both British and computing history

</rant>

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Boffins say dark matter found with X-ray

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Pint

Interesting observation

And as so often, it leads to a cry of "bring on better instruments" (and rightly so). This might be something radically new, this might be a different version of something old, it might be a glitch in the instrument (after all, both reports rely on the same instrument). That's science in progress for you.

Fortunately, the Japanese mission is not too far away in the future (certainly no astronomically speaking). I'll raise a glass to the progress made

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Security: It's knowing what you don't know

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

I object ...

to the title on the same grounds as I have always objected to the entry in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on page seven-thousand-and-twenty-three: "Expect the unexpected" on the grounds that it is

a) glib

and

b) a contradiction in terms

Sorry, couldn't resist, where's that coat with the cassette tapes of the HHGTTG radio plays

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Why can’t I walk past Maplin without buying stuff I don’t need?

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Happy

"which only the French get right by making it last twice as long"

Taking less than an hour over what the French consider a good lunch is a crime against culinary art. Simply relaxing under the Provencal sunshine whilst savouring first class food is an excellent way to relax and unwind (I realize that it can rain in France as well ;-) ).

Mind you, they are clueless about breakfast. For breakfast, bring on the British! Bring on the bacon, sausage, fried bread, eggs, baked beans ... THE WORKS!!

Maybe the French need their extensive lunch because they eat a tiny bit of bread and jam for breakfast, so when lunchtime arrives they are half starved. The British, being fortified at breakfast with a much bigger meal can survive off the odd sarnie for lunch.

Darn, I'm hungry now!

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Very fabric of space-time RIPPED apart in latest Hubble pic

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

Reminds me of the Galaxy song

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving,

revolving at nine hundred miles an hour.....

....

..

So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth!

And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space

because there's bugger all down here on Earth!

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Dell charges £16 TO INSTALL FIREFOX on PCs – Mozilla is miffed

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Pint

Re: Sounds about right

Single Islay Malts are more to my taste, but a decent beer is welcome too.

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Dark matter killed the dinosaurs, boffins suggest

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Boffin

Re: Dark Matter?

If I truly understood dark matter I would probably have an (Ig) Nobel prize (It's the surname that counts ;-) ). I must say as a scientist I am sceptical, but there have been instances when we needed hypothetical particles to explain certain effects. Neutrinos are the prime example. They were needed to explain the apparent lack of conservation of angular momentum and energy in beta decay. They were subsequently found. Anti-matter is weirder yet: the positron was postulated purely from mathematics as a possibility by Dirac, and subsequently it was found (in fact, it had been seen before, but misinterpreted as an electron moving in the opposite direction). The aether on the other hand was postulated but rather wrecked by the Michelson-Morley experiment.

It is hard to reconcile observations with theories without dark matter, and there are ways of observing its influence on matter and light, so there is circumstantial evidence for it. However, most cosmologists I have spoken to do acknowledge that a thorough re-write of our understanding of physics may be an alternative solution. It is just that we do not know how to.

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Aargh! My EYEBALLS are MELLLTING! Curse this DEVIL LAPTOP

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Boffin

100W bulb vs 13" screen

Physics would suggest the irradiance on the retina (W/m^2) as a function of wavelength would be the deciding factor for disease. A 100W bulb at at 30cm covers a much smaller solid angle in the field of view than my laptop screen at normal distance (some ten times smaller according to my BotE (back of the envelope) calculations. Assuming an incandescent light bulb, and assuming LEDs are ten times more efficient than an incandescent light, this suggests the power draw of the screen would need to be 100W to deliver the same irradiance on the retina (albeit over a larger surface area). Given the 58 Wh capacity of my old laptop battery, I would drain it in roughly 35 minutes assuming the processor, memory and disk have no power draw at all.

I think I can safely say the irradiance on the retina is at least one, if not two orders of magnitude lower, as I know too well after replacing a 100W equivalent lamp, and it turned out some joker had flipped the switch to the "on" position while I was doing it. Having such a bright light popping on at about 10" from your face is not fun at all. Watching my laptop screen is not a problem at all.

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Ever get the impression a telesales op was being held prisoner?

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Joke

Interestingly, I always thought

telemarketeers calling me deserved a prison sentence

Apparently, some already have got one

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Massive new AIRSHIP to enter commercial service at British dirigible base

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

Re: Not interested unless....

or Tibetan bicycle repair man for that matter

"Bicycle Repair Man? But HOW???"

Sorry, couldn't resist. Mine is the one with "The Long War" book and the Monty Python DVD in the pockets

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NHS care.data leaflet shovage: Like a 'notice for Earth's demolition' posted to Alpha Centauri

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

That reminds me, I have to put up an announcement for the students

Where's that sign "Beware of the Leopard"?

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European Space Agency: PLATO will seek out 'ADVANCED LIFE forms'... 'SLIME'

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Aliens will be impressed by this mission

"Not bad at all for a species that hasn't invented slood yet"

Seriously though, great to see the ESA do these projects!

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Chihuahua TERROR: Packs of TINY hounds menace Arizona

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

If a chihuahua tried to chase me

I I would step on it

the dog that is, not the accellerator (gas-pedal for those on the other side of the pond).

A healthy kick (conversion, rugby style) would also be on the cards

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Doomed Cassiopeia star was sloshed just before deadly supernova blast

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: Pauli Exclusion principle

1/2, so it is a fermion. It's existence was postulated because in beta decay, a proton (fermion) split into a neutron and an electron (both fermions). This violates conservation of angular momentum. Postulating the simultaneous creation of a third particle to carry the surplus spin (or minus the missing spin) solved the problem

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Very interesting research

Well timed too with a supernova going off in Messier 82, in reach of small telescopes

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Tired of arguing with suits? Get ready to argue with engineers!

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Pint

<KZZZEEEERT>, <SLAM>, <CLUNK>, <CRUNCH>

This development could lead to a whole new series of BOFH plots. Remote access to heavy kit and power stations yield many new opportunities of <KZZZEEEERT>, <CRUNCH>, <SLAM>, and <CLUNK>, effects, after the usual <clickety, clickety>

Beer, coz Simon and the PFY are off to the pub

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Reg readers fret over misty-eyed LOHAN

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Flame

I suddenly had this image of a microflame miniature blow-torch solution for the heating problem. If you want to go down in flames, that's one way of doing it properly ;-)

On a more serious note: love the LOHAN project, and indeed, it should be shown in schools.

Icon, because, well, obvious innit?

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SPACE VID: Watch JUMBO ASTEROID 2000 EM26 buzzing Earth

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Needs hefty telescope indeed

My 8" can do mag 14 under good conditions, mag 16 is about 6.25 times fainter, so requires 2.5 times more aperture at least, or a massive 20" scope, and that would be borderline. Roll on that 32" Dobsonian (when serious men build telescopes, they don't mess about).

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New password system lets planet Earth do the hard work

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

But

will it allow me to draw a contour around 10^8th Astral Crescent, Zoovroozlechester, Betelgeuse V?

Sorry, time to get me coat, it appears. The one with the extra sleeve please

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My smelly Valentine: Europe's perfumers wake to V-Day nightmare

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Re: I can see the point

Same here. If I walk past perfume stores like the Douglas store close to my favourite book store, I have to hold my breath. I once had to buy a present there, and I really should have been wearing a gas mask. Next time, should it be unavoidable, I am sorely tempted to wear one (do designer gas masks exist?)

Worse, some department stores place their cosmetics department on the ground floor, near the entrance. I try to avoid these places, and if I have to enter, I walk through it swiftly and without inhaling. Entering a department store with a gas mask is probably an ill-advised manoeuvre, and might lead to overreaction from security bods.

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Re: Alternatives are available

I also prefer my Talisker down the throat. The odd Islay malt is welcome too

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DON'T PANIC! No credit card details lost after hackers crack world's largest casino group

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Happy

Should this headline not

be written in large, friendly letters?

And no, I am not panicking, as I do not gamble. In fact, I only ever bet on anything if I am 100% sure that I am right, and the other is wrong on some point of fact. For example, in my student days, some friends were adamant that the first castle approached by King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the one with the swallows) was French, whereas I claimed it was not (it was of course the one assaulted with the wooden rabbit that was French). They were prepared to bet a bottle of whisky on this, and I happily accepted the bet. We rented the video, each of us brought a bottle, and the loser had to open his bottle and share it with those present.

When that bottle ran out, I did of course open mine as well

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Dr Hurricane unleashes FUSION POWER at Livermore nuke lab

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Well I'm blessed

I did a project on nuclear fusion at secondary school (1978 or so), and was fascinated by the images of SHIVA and the like as shown in the National Geographic magazine. I equally eagerly poured over reports on JET and the like. Many stories told how scientific break-even (as much energy into the reaction as out) was one or two decades away. Clearly development has not been as nearly as fast as anticipated, but I am well pleased to hear of this progress.

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IT'S ALIVE! China's Jade Rabbit rover RETURNS from the DEAD

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Pint

Good news

Looking forward to this rabbit's further progress.

I'll raise a glass to its success

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China confirms Jade Rabbit lunar rover has conked out

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

Re: It's baaaaack!

Was it spotted carrying a card "I ATEN'T DEAD!"?

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Pint

I have said it before, I will say it again

If you have successfully placed a rover on the moon and you have made it last longer than Jade Rabbit, then you have a right to knock the Chinese effort.

They launched and landed successfully, they gathered data and images, had the thing working for quite a while, and now it has broken. Not bad at all in my book.

I will be happy to raise a glass of Tsingtao beer in the engineers' honour this evening (although I might have to resort to another brand). I have several pieces of excellent Chinese optical kit, and know they can built excellent stuff when they "build up to a spec, rather than down to a price" as a friend of mine likes to say.

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You’re NOT fired: The story of Amstrad’s amazing CPC 464

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

I remember those 3" Floppy disks

Nothing wrong with them per se, but when Amstrad came to the Netherlands (quite a bit later than the UK launch), the 3" floppy disks really hurt their sales, because by that time 3.5" was clearly the winner in the format wars. I seem to remember even some later more-or-less IBM-PC compatible ones also sported that odd format, but I might be wrong. I definitely remember advising people NOT to buy the Amstrads with these disks, because they would have a hard time exchanging data with everyone else.

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It's a scientific FACT: Online comment trolls are SADISTS

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Coat

Re: Troll types

How many types of troll?

LOTS

as in "one, two, many, LOTS"

Ok, I'm going. At ease Sgt Detritus

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'No, I CAN'T write code myself,' admits woman in charge of teaching our kids to code

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Mushroom

"a skill as vital as reading writing and maths - and could be learned in a day"

Coding learned in a day? Such a statement clearly shows she hasn't got a clue about coding. Anyway, how can you claim that a skill can be learned in a day when you yourself haven't?

She clearly doesn't even know what an ID10T error is (or PEBCAK situation, for that matter).

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Thumb Up

Re: Go for it?

Very good point. When teaching "Introduction to Computing Science" which runs in parallel to "Imperative Programming" in the first term of our CS programme, I always point our students to Peter Norvig's excellent page Teach yourself programming in ten years. Really top-notch programming is a skill that requires years of dedication to master. This is thoroughly underestimated by many.

This is also illustrated by our some of staff members regularly stunning students with our ability to find bugs near instantly in code that has been baffling them for hours or even days. This even happens to MSc students who have four or five years of course work under their belt. I then remind them that I have been making that kind of programming mistake (we all do) for 25 years at a professional level, so of course I can find them more easily.

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Open MPI hits milestone with FORTRAN-ready 1.7.4 release

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Re: Fortran, indeed

I used Fortran for scientific programming because of the libraries available (one from NAG in particular, got an "Impossible error message" from it by running multiple copies of the same routine in parallel in a shared-memory Cray: multiple copies were using the same named common block, instead of using private copies). This was at the end of the nineties beginning of the noughties. Currently there are many other libraries in many languages available. and anyway, I can always call Fortran routines from C if I REALLY want to. Besides, not all scientific programming needs the kind of numerical algorithms for which many Fortran libraries exist. I do most of my scientific work in C(++) now.

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Happy

Fortran, indeed

it's just that I always start to shout. Cannot help myself. And of course, the old CDC 7600 HAD A 64-ENTRY CHARACTER SET WHICH SUPPORTED UPPER CASE ONLY, SO IT AUTOMATICALLY BECAME FORTRAN. Luckily, we had a PDP-11 front end to the monster machine, which did allow your code to have a more restrained appearance (that AND we used Pascal for our initial practicals)

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Just have to say

In all my years of FORTRAN coding for HPC, I really, really, really got to loathe that language. OK, F90 and F95 were improvements, but my association with F77 did so much damage that I never really got over it. Implied do loops in read statements and common blocks really did me in.

</rant>

Breathe deep, relax, let blood pressure go down.

....

There, I'm OK again

On a serious note: thumbs up to that team. You may hate FORTRAN, but it is important, as is MPI. Giving more choice in free MPI implementations is always going to be good news (yes we have used MPICH as well as Cray's implementation of MPI). MPI is the de-facto standard for development of distributed memory algorithms.

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Qipp debuts 'Clippy for your STUFF' app

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Coat

It may remind me to install a back-up personality in all the doors with a GPP feature. I am getting sick of their cheerful and sunny disposition and the intolerable air of smugness they generate when they are about to open.

OK, time for me coat it seems

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El Reg talks beer and binaries with a boffin named Boffin

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Pint

A salute to all Boffinry!

And dr Henri Boffin in particular

Here's that beer then.

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SkyMapper turns up oldest star ever found

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Mushroom

Very interesting indeed

The "wimpyness" of early supernovae is of course relative. They still would make simultaneously setting off the entire nuclear arsenal on earth look like an ant sneezing. Having just observed a "bog standard" Type 1a supernova shine nearly as brightly as an entire galaxy (SN2014J in M82), I am always staggered by the sheer scale and violence of these events.

Icon, because that's a seriously wimpy explosion

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BOFH: Attractive person is attractive. Um, why are your eyes bulging?

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Re: Bad answers.

Whenever I am quizzed about which shoes/dress/blouse/[insert obscure item for which she wants approval here] I never say the first one is OK. That would be suicidal. I always carefully compare the first option with the second, internally flip a coin, and follow the simple algorithm

if (coin.heads()){

cout << "I prefer the second" << endl;

} else {

cout << "No, the first one was better after all" << endl;

}

So far, I survive.

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Happy

Nice one

Don't make me CRAZY, you wouldn't like me when I'm CRAZY

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Mars rover Curiosity snaps 'pale blue dot' image of Earth, Moon

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Coat

Size is relative

A combined alien battle fleet of the Vl'hurghs and G'gugvuntts was swallowed by a small dog accidentally.

Sorry, time for me coat. The one with the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy cassette tapes in the pocket

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Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Awe-inspiring

It does make me wonder whether some politicians who want to cut research budgets for this kind of work do so because they do not like being reminded how insignificant all of us are.

I rather like looking up at the stars and realizing that on the one hand all our worries are not that significant, and on the other hand, that I am a bit of star-dust, a tiny supernova remnant that has woken up and wonders about the stars. Physically we might be small, but in terms of imagination we can be great indeed. Unfortunately, the same can hold for our egos.

I hope I can take some snaps of Mars as it approaches opposition next time round. I might not be able to see Curiosity, but I hope to improve on an earlier attempt

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JavaScript is everywhere. So are we all OK with that?

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge

Getting started in programming

“If I was just getting started in programming, and I didn't know what language to pick, I would pick JavaScript,"

I think that would depend on what you want. If you want to learn a programming language that is used a lot, and in many contexts, and allows you to do some nice stuff quickly, JS is fine, I suppose. If you want to learn to programme, I am not sure JS is the obvious choice. We prefer to teach imperative programming first, and then proceed to OO and functional languages (and of course parallel programming). Other curricula start out at the OO level immediately. Whatever the order, once you understand the principles, learning any language that implements these principles is comparatively easy. Many of our students use JS without ever having taken an official course. We flatter ourselves that this may have to do with us teaching them the fundamentals.

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Google admits 'garbage in, garbage out' translation problem

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Re: www.myhovercraftisfullofeels.com

I will not buy this record; it is scratched!!

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Greenland glacier QUADRUPLES speed, swells seas

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Some things I know, many things I don't

I honestly do not know (meaning with scientific certainty) where the climate is heading, and what is causing such changes as are observed (and data can be confusing). I do know that climate was very much different in the past, both much warmer (for much of the fossil record), and much colder (pleistocene, anybody?). I know that solar activity plays a role, and I know that many other factors including greenhouse gasses and water vapour are important. I do not know all the precise mechanisms or which factors are most important (let alone which weight to assign to each factor). This is actually why this field of science is scientifically interesting. Unknowns are interesting, knowns are comparatively boring.

Despite all this uncertainty about the degree to which mankind may be contributing to change, I do know one simple fact: it is foolish to squander limited resources. Using up fossil fuels in wasteful ways, when oil and the like are also needed to manufacture more durable products, is not tenable in the long run. I agree we cannot suddenly all go back to the caves and shiver in the cold, but we can and should find alternatives, not so much to reduce pollution or CO2 emission (which in itself may make sense), but simply because at some point fossil fuels will run out. As these fuels become more expensive, it just makes (very selfish, perhaps) economic sense to be less wasteful.

I am open to suggestions about what the best alternatives are, and where we can make savings in use

Just my tuppence worth

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Boffins say D-Wave machine could be a classic*

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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It appears

to be a quantum computer depending on who looks at it.

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EU warns United States: SHAPE UP on data protection OR ELSE

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
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Joke

Legislation through Congress before summer?

Now there's an optimist speaking.

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Boffins build electronic tongue that can distinguish between BEERS

Michael H.F. Wilkinson
Silver badge
Pint

Re: American beer?

Haven't had American beer for quite a while so cannot comment on latest developments (had some fairly decent stuff in a bar in San Diego in 2008). It is not readily available here, due to its horrible reputation. I must say the last time I tasted American Budweiser (1996 or so) it did not compare favourably with the original Czech Budweiser from Budvar. When next I am in the US, I will be quite happy to change my mind over US beer (though I will need to have a statistically significantly large sample ;-), all in the interest of fairness ).

Belgian Trapist beers are far more popular here, and for good reason. Friends from the US thought beer with 5% alcohol by volume was strong. One Westmalle Tripel (9.5% alcohol) later they new better

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