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Communications

Ask Slashdot: What Are Some Things That Every Hacker Once Knew? (ibiblio.org) 615

Open source guru Eric Raymond turns 60 this year, prompting this question from an anonymous reader: Eric Raymond's newest writing project is "Things Every Hacker Once Knew," inspired by the day he learned that not every programmer today's knows the bit structure of ASCII. "I didn't write it as a nostalgia trip -- I don't miss underpowered computers, primitive tools, and tiny low-resolution displays... In any kind of craft or profession, I think knowing the way things used to be done, and the issues those who came before you struggled with, is quite properly a source of pride and wisdom. It gives you a useful kind of perspective on today's challenges."

He writes later that it's to "assist retrospective understanding by younger hackers so they can make sense of the fossils and survivals still embedded in current technology." It's focusing on ASCII and "related technologies" like hardware terminals, modems and RS-232. ("This is lore that was at one time near-universal and is no longer.") Sections include "UUCP and BBSes, the forgotten pre-Internets" and "The strange afterlife of the Hayes smartmodem" (which points out some AT commands survived to this day in smartphones). He requests any would-be contributors to remember that "I'm trying to describe common knowledge at the time." This got my thinking -- what are some that every programmer once knew that have since been forgotten by newer generations of programmers?

Eric Raymond is still hard at work today on the NTPsec project -- a secure, hardened, and improved implementation of Network Time Protocol -- and he promises donations to his Patreon page will help fund it. But what things do you remember that were commonplace knowledge "back in the day" that have now become largely forgotten? Leave your best answers in the comments. What are some things that every hacker once knew?
Programming

Slashdot Asks: How Do You Know a Developer is Doing a Good Job? 229

An anonymous reader writes: One of the easiest ways to evaluate a developer is keeping a tab on the amount of value they provide to a business. But the problem with this approach is that the nature of software development does not make it easy to measure the value a single developer brings. Some managers are aware of this, and they look at the number of lines of code a developer has written. The fewer, the better, many believe. I recently came across this in a blog post, "If you paid your developers per line of code, you would reward the inefficient developers. An analogy to this is writing essays, novels, blog posts, etc. Would you judge a writer solely on the number of words written? Probably not. There are a minimum number of words needed to get a complex point across, but those points get lost when a writer clutters their work with useless sentences. So the lines of code metric doesn't work. The notion of a quantifiable metric for evaluating developers is still attractive though. Some may argue that creating many code branches is the mark of a great developer. Yet I once worked with a developer who would create code branches to hide the fact that he wasn't very productive." Good point. But then, what other options do we have?
Technology

Slashdot Asks: Your Favorite Podcasts? And Why? 268

Are podcasts finally starting to go mainstream? Are they the future of radio? Who knows. Over the weekend, a reader asked us if we listen to podcasts -- and if yes, which ones? I started listening to podcasts five years ago, and I try to listen to one podcast every day. Here are some of the podcasts I have subscribed to (though I rarely manage to listen to all of them, each week): The New York Times' new podcast The Daily, Bloomberg's Decrypted, WSJ's Media Mix, The Information's 411, The Economist's The Week Ahead, The Economist's Babbage, Financial Times' Tech Tonic, NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, The New Yorker's Radio Hour, The Accidental Tech Podcast, John Gruber's The Talk Show, Slate's Audio Book Club, and Kara Swisher's Recode Decode. What are your favorite podcasts and why? Also, when do you listen to them -- at work /during commute / before bed / weekend or some other time?
Java

Ask Slashdot: How To Get Started With Programming? [2017 Edition] 312

Reader joshtops writes: I know this is a question that must have been asked -- and answered -- on Slashdot several times, but I am hoping to listen from the community again (fresh perspective, if you will). I'm in my 20s, and have a day job that doesn't require any programming skills. But I want to learn it nonetheless. I have done some research but people have varied opinions. Essentially my question is: What is perhaps the best way to learn programming for my use case? I am looking for best possible resources -- perhaps tutorials on the internet, the right books and the order in which I should read/watch them. Some people have advised me to start with C language, but I was wondering if I could kickstart things with other languages such as perhaps Apple's Swift as well?
Education

Ask Slashdot: Why Do You Care About Tech Conferences? 197

An anonymous user is "just starting a programming career," and has several questions for Slashdot's readers: What exactly is the role of tech conferences? I always assumed they were mostly for exhibitors to pitch me things, but then what's in it for me? Am I just going there to network, or am I learning new cutting-edge techniques and getting enlightened by awesome training sessions? Or is it just a fun way to get a free trip to Las Vegas?

And then what's in it for my employer, who's paying to send me there? If my boss has to approve the cost of attending a conference, what's going to make him say yes? I mean, do employers really get enough value from that extra conference-only information to justify sending off their employees for several days of non-productivity? (Don't they know all that networking could lead me to job offers from other companies?)

It's always been a little intimidating the way people talk about conferences, like everyone already knows all about them, and drop the conference's name into the conversations like you should already know what it is. I always assumed people just attended only conferences for their current programming language or platform -- but is there more to it than that? What exactly is the big deal?

I'm struggling to even find the right metaphor for this -- is it a live interactive infomercial or a grand gathering of geeky good will? So leave your best answers in the comments. Why do you care about tech conferences?
Social Networks

Ask Slashdot: How Do You Deal With Aggressive Forum Users? 477

Slashdot reader dryriver writes: I've noticed a disturbing trend while trying to resolve a rather tricky tech issue by asking questions on a number of internet forums. The number of people who don't help at all with problems but rather butt into threads with unhelpful comments like "Why would you want to do that in the first place?" or "why don't you look at X poorly written documentation page " was staggering. One forum user with 1,500+ posts even posted "you are such a n00b if you can't figure this out" in my question thread, even though my tech question wasn't one that is obvious or easy to resolve...

I seem to remember a time when people helped each other far more readily on the internet. Now there seems to be a new breed of forum user who a) hangs out at a forum socially all day b) does not bother to help at all and c) gets a kick out of telling you things like "what a stupid question" or "nobody will help you with that here" or similar... Where have the good old days gone when people much more readily gave other people step-by-step tips, tricks, instructions and advice?

The original submission claims the ratio of unhelpful comments to helpful ones was 5 to 1. Has anyone else experienced this? And if so, what's the best response? Leave your best answers in the comments. How do you deal with aggressive forum users?
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Should You Tell Future Employers Your Salary History? 435

An anonymous reader writes: During the interview process for a technology job, I was asked to fill out an application which included questions about my compensation history. When I asked why, I was told that it was part of the background check and wouldn't be used to determine the size of the offer... What is the risk for the employer of not knowing that info? Is this standard procedure or part of a trend at technology companies?
The original submission asks if this is ever a legitimate question -- or more to the point, "Is it anything more than an attempt to gain negotiating leverage?" So leave your best answers in the comments. When you're interviewing for a new IT job, should you tell future employers your salary history?
Government

Ask Slashdot: Can US Citizens Trust Government Data? (msn.com) 460

mmell writes: An editorial in the Washington Post and made publicly available via an MSN news feed has asked the question: "In the Trump administration era of 'alternative facts,' what happens to government data?" Given that Slashdot members (and readers) may represent a somewhat more in-the-know crowd on matters concerning data integrity and trustworthiness, I thought this would be a good place to ask: can we trust (or has anyone ever really trusted) government data? One might think government data would all be cut 'n' dried and not subject to manipulation, but I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant. So . . . has government data ever been trustworthy, and is it still so?
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Should Commercial Software Prices Be Pegged To a Country's GDP? 290

Here's a bright idea from dryriver Why don't software makers look at the average income level in a given country -- per capita GDP for example -- and adjust their software prices in these countries accordingly? Most software makers in the U.S. and EU currently insist on charging the full U.S. or EU price in much poorer countries. "Rampant piracy" and "low sales" is often the result in these countries. Why not change this by charging lower software prices in less wealthy countries?
This presupposes the continuing existence of closed-source software businesses -- but is there a way to make that pricing more fair? Leave your best suggestions in the comments. should commercial software prices be pegged to a country's GDP?
Open Source

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Place To Suggest New Open Source Software? 225

dryriver writes: Somebody I know has been searching up and down the internet for an open source software that can apply GPU pixel shaders (HLSL/GLSL/Cg/SweetFX) to a video and save the result out to a video file. He came up with nothing, so I said "Why not petition the open source community to create such a tool?" His reply was "Where exactly does one go to ask for a new open source software?"

So that is my question: Where on the internet can one best go to request that a new open source software tool that does not exist yet be developed? Or do open source tools only come into existence when someone -- a coder -- starts to build a software, opens the source, and invites other coders to join the fray?

This is a good place to discuss the general logistics of new open source projects -- so leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best place to suggest new open source software?
Programming

Author of Swift Language Chris Lattner is Leaving Apple; We're Interviewing Him (Ask a Question!) (swift.org) 339

Software developer Chris Lattner, who is the main author of LLVM as well as Apple's Swift programming language, is leaving Apple, he said today. From a post: When we made Swift open source and launched Swift.org we put a lot of effort into defining a strong community structure. This structure has enabled Apple and the amazingly vibrant Swift community to work together to evolve Swift into a powerful, mature language powering software used by hundreds of millions of people. I'm happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as "Project Lead" for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I've made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. We're delighted to share that we are interviewing Lattner, who says he's a "long-time reader/fan of Slashdot." Please leave your question in the comments section. Lattner says he'll talk about "open source (llvm/clang/swift/etc) or personal topics," but has requested that we do not ask him about Apple, which is understandable.

Update: Lattner is joining Tesla.
Education

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Job For This Recent CS Grad? 261

One year away from graduating with a CS degree, an anonymous reader wants some insights from the Slashdot community: [My] curriculum is rather broad, ranging from systems programming on a Raspberry Pi to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, C, Java, JPA, Python, Go, Node.js, software design patterns, basic network stuff (mostly Cisco) and various database technologies... I'm working already part-time as a system administrator for two small companies, but don't want to stay there forever because it's basically a dead-end position. Enjoying the job, though... With these skills under my belt, what career path should I pursue?
There's different positions as well as different fields, and the submission explains simply that "I'm looking for satisfying and rewarding work," adding that "pay is not that important." So leave your suggestions in the comments. What's the best job for this recent CS grad?
Toys

Ask Slashdot: What's The Most Useful 'Nerd Watch' Today? 232

He's worn the same watch for two decades, but now Slashdot reader students wants a new one. For about 20 years I've used Casio Databank 150 watches. They were handy because they kept track of my schedule and the current time. They were very cheap. They required very little maintenance, since the battery lasts more than a year and the bands last even longer. Since they were waterproof, I don't even have to take them off (or remember where I put them!) They were completely immune to malicious software, surveillance, and advertising. However, their waterproof gaskets have worn out so they no longer work for me. Casio no longer makes them or any comparable product (their website is out of date).
Today's watches include everything from heart rate monitors to TV remote controls, and Casio even plans to release a new version of their Android Wear watch with a low-power GPS chip and mapping software. But what's your best suggestion? "I don't want a watch that duplicates the function of my cell phone or computer," adds the original submission -- so leave your best answers in the comments. What's the most useful nerd watch today?
Programming

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Deal With A 'Gaslighting' Colleague? 433

An anonymous reader writes: What's the best unofficial way to deal with a gaslighting colleague? For those not familiar, I mean "bullies unscheduling things you've scheduled, misplacing files and other items that you are working on and co-workers micro-managing you and being particularly critical of what you do and keeping it under their surveillance. They are watching you too much, implying or blatantly saying that you are doing things wrong when, in fact, you are not...a competitive maneuver, a way of making you look bad so that they look good." I'd add poring over every source-code commit, and then criticizing it even if the criticism is contradictory to what he previously said.
The submission adds that "Raising things through the official channels is out of the question, as is confronting the colleague in question directly as he is considered something of a superstar engineer who has been in the company for decades and has much more influence than any ordinary engineer." So leave your best suggestions in the comments. How would you deal with a gaslighting colleague?
Software

Ask Slashdot: Why Are Some Great Games Panned and Some Inferior Games Praised? (soldnersecretwars.de) 145

dryriver writes: A few years ago I bought a multiplayer war game called Soldner: Secret Wars that I had never heard of before. (The game is entirely community maintained now and free to download and play at www.soldnersecretwars.de.) The professional reviews completely and utterly destroyed Soldner -- buggy, bad gameplay, no single-player mode, disappointing graphics, server problems and so on. For me and many other players who did give it a chance beyond the first 30 minutes, Soldner turned out to be the most fun, addictive, varied, satisfying and multi-featured multiplayer war game ever. It had innovative features that AAA titles like Battlefield and COD did not have at all at the time -- fully destructible terrain, walls and buildings, cool physics on everything from jeeps flying off mountaintops to Apache helicopters crashing into Hercules transport aircraft, to dozens of trees being blown down by explosions and then blocking an incoming tank's way. Soldner took a patch or three to become fully stable, but then was just fun, fun, fun to play. So much freedom, so much cool stuff you can do in-game, so many options and gadgets you can play with. By contrast, the far, far simpler -- but better looking -- Battlefield, COD, Medal Of Honor, CounterStrike war games got all the critical praise, made the tens of millions in profit per release, became longstanding franchises and are, to this day, not half the fun to play that Soldner is. How does this happen? How does a title like Soldner, that tried to do more new stuff than the other war games combined, get trashed by every reviewer, and then far less innovative and fun to play war games like BF, COD, CS sell tens of millions of copies per release and get rave reviews all around?
Advertising

Ask Slashdot: Is Computing As Cool and Fun As It Once Was? 449

dryriver writes: I got together with old computer nerd friends the other day. All of us have been at it since the 8-bit/1980s days of Amstrad, Atari, Commodore 64-type home computers. Everybody at the meeting agreed on one thing -- computing is just not as cool and as much fun as it once was. One person lamented that computer games nowadays are tied to internet DRM like Steam, that some crucial DCC software is available to rent only now (e.g. Photoshop) and that many "basic freedoms" of the old-school computer nerd are increasingly disappearing. Another said that Windows 10's spyware aspects made him give up on his beloved PC platform and that he will use Linux and Android devices only from now on, using consoles to game on instead of a PC because of this. A third complained about zero privacy online, internet advertising, viruses, ransomware, hacking, crapware. I lamented that the hardware industry still hasn't given us anything resembling photorealistic realtime 3D graphics, and that the current VR trend arrived a full decade later than it should have. A point of general agreement was that big tech companies in particular don't treat computer users with enough respect anymore. What do Slashdotters think? Is computing still as cool and fun as it once was, or has something "become irreversibly lost" as computing evolved into a multi-billion dollar global business?
Books

What's the Best Book You Read This Year? 338

The year is almost over. It's time we asked you about the books you read over the past few months. Which ones -- new or old -- were your favourite? Please share just one title name in the comments section (and if you would like, rest in parenthesis). Also, which books are you looking forward to reading in the coming weeks?
Chrome

Slashdot Asks: Why Are Browsers So Slow? (ilyabirman.net) 766

Designer Ilya Birman writes: I understand why rendering a complicated layout may be slow. Or why executing a complicated script may be slow. Actually, browsers are rather fast doing these things. If you studied programming and have a rough idea about how many computations are made to render a page, it is surprising the browsers can do it all that fast. But I am not talking about rendering and scripts. I am talking about everything else. Safari may take a second or two just to open a new blank tab on a 2014 iMac. And with ten or fifteen open tabs it eventually becomes sluggish as hell. Chrome is better, but not much so. What are they doing? The tabs are already open. Everything has been rendered. Why does it take more than, say, a thousandth of a second to switch between tabs or create a new one? Opening a 20-megapixel photo from disk doesn't take any noticeable amount of time, it renders instantaneously. Browsers store their stuff in memory. Why can't they just show the pixels immediately when I ask for them? [...] Unfortunately, modern browsers are so stupid that they reload all the tabs when you restart them. Which takes ages if you have a hundred of tabs. Opera was sane: it did not reload a tab unless you asked for it. It just reopened everything from cache. Which took a couple of seconds. Modern browsers boast their rendering and script execution performance, but that's not what matters to me as a user. I just don't understand why programmers spend any time optimising for that while the Chrome is laughably slow even by ten-years-old standards.Do you agree with Birman? If yes, why do you think browsers are generally slow today?
IT

Ask Slashdot: How Should I Furnish (And Secure) My Work-From-Home Office? 303

"If someone gave you a big chunk of change to build a small one- or two-room office, what would you do?" asks long-time Slashdot reader darkpixel2k, as he plans to build a small office out in his backyard. My plan is to trench CAT6 from our ISP fiber DMARC over to the ~12x20 building, wire the structure up for network and power, and furnish it with a small rack, UPS, switch, router, a desk, whiteboard walls, a wireless access point, and an air conditioner for the summer heat... While I have the "big picture" idea in my head, I don't really have a grasp of the fine details that would make it a comfortable work environment... Should I put down carpet and one of those plastic mats for chairs? A friend suggested I wire up speakers so I don't have to listen to my terrible laptop speakers, and a large flat-screen TV so I can display dashboards and statistics.

Lastly, physical security is somewhat of an issue. While everything is insured, downtime of a few days or weeks due to meth heads would be a huge impact to the company and also on my paycheck. I was talking with the local company that builds small office-like structures, sheds, and barns, and they said they can "double up" the 2x4s to strengthen the walls and make a stronger door, but I need to supply my own lock. Should I use some off-the-shelf lock from a big-box hardware store? Should I install a digital lock?

There's more details in the original submission -- but it's also a lot of fun to speculate about what you'd do with a big chunk of change to build your own work-from-home office. So leave your best answers for darkpixel2k in the comments. How should he furnish (and secure) his work-from-home office?
Christmas Cheer

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Geeky Gift For Children? 204

Everyone's suggesting gifts to teach the next generation of geeks about science, technology, engineering, and math. Slashdot reader theodp writes: In "My Guide to Holiday Gifts," Melinda Gates presents "a STEM gift guide" [which] pales by comparison to Amazon's "STEM picks". Back in 2009, Slashdot discussed science gifts for kids. So, how about a 2016 update?
I've always wanted to ask what geeky gifts Slashdot's readers remember from when they were kids. (And what geeky gifts do you still bitterly wish some enlightened person would've given you?) But more importantly, what modern-day tech toys can best encourage the budding young geeks of today? Leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best geeky gift for children?

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