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Comment: Re:Flash panic (Score 0) 110

by Solandri (#47554913) Attached to: OKCupid Experiments on Users Too

When we (academics) do experiments on people however trivial we usually have to go through ethical clearance, get informed consent etc. I think its skipping that part that people are uncomfortable about.

You do realize that you yourself conduct such "experiments" on your friends every day? While making conversation in the lunch room you ask, "Hey, anyone wanna see Planet of the Apes tonight?" That elicits a lukewarm response, so you then ask "Well what about How to Train your Dragon?" You get a lot of interest in that one, so next time you ask about watching movies you're more likely to make suggestions where they can bring along their kids.

I think the dividing line between when you need to get informed consent is when the experiment begins to make people do things they wouldn't have done anyway. Tweaking how people get paired up for dates is fine if they were looking for a date anyway. Forcing them to go on a date when they weren't planning to would require informed consent (and probably compensation).

Comment: Re:Great... (Score 4, Insightful) 530

by Solandri (#47550771) Attached to: Satellite Images Show Russians Shelling Ukraine

Guy comes to my house and kills a member of my family. In "self defense", the next day I go and burn down his house with him and his family in it.

Rather that just reading the anti-U.S. rants about this, you should try visiting Asia and talking to the Asians who had to live under Imperial Japanese rule. Much like the Nazis, the Japanese saw themselves as a genetically superior race, and other races were nothing more than cattle to them. My grandmother was forced to watch as her sister and niece were raped and killed by Japanese soldiers, all to coerce my grandfather (a doctor) into treating one of their officers. The Imperial Japanese needed to be put down, at all costs, for the sake of civilization.

The correct analogy is guy terrorizes neighborhood killing hundreds of people. Then happens to go into your house and kill a member of your family. You fight back and eventually surround him in his home where he's instructed his entire family to die defending the house. You manage to take him and one family member out with a new weapon that vaporizes the part of the house he's in, which spares the rest of his family. The loss of the family member is regrettable, but it's a positive outcome when you consider the part you've conveniently left out of your analogy - that killing his entire family would have been an acceptable cost to free the neighborhood from his reign of terror.

Comment: Re:All software is full of bugs (Score 2) 140

I was demonstrating to a shitty software developer the other day how all his input sanitizing routines were in the javascript front end to his web application and anyone bypassing the javascript could essentially have their way with the back-end database, and he told me "Oh you're making a back-end API call, no one will ever do that!" No one except the guy who's hacking your fucking system, jackass.

That actually happened in one of the online games I used to play. The game company decided to run a promotion where you filled out a short survey on their web site, and as a reward you'd be mailed a small prize in the game. Someone sifted through the code for the website, and found it was just telling the game server's database to mail the prize's item number to the player's account. He tried changing the item number and it worked. Soon he had dozens of the rarest, most valuable item in the game in his mailbox and was selling them for the RL equivalent of thousands of dollars.

Anyhow, this is why I've always scoffed at the title "Software Engineer". Real engineers sign off on their work, and can be held personally liable if their design turns out to be flawed and leads to damage, injury, or death. In some engineering professions (e.g. civil engineering), a notable failure can lead to losing one's professional accreditation, turning that expensive engineering degree into a worthless piece of paper. The software industry needs to decide if it wants to continue down this "anyone can write a program" wild west route, or if it wants to become a real profession with real standards and real consequences for failing to adhere to those standards. Just like anyone can write code, anyone can build and wire their own house, treat themselves for an injury, or represent themselves in court. But if you want to sell your services for doing these things you have to be licensed, and you are personally liable for any harm that comes from your work not being up to professional standards.

Comment: Re:already done (Score 3, Informative) 117

External events are considered in US plant design already, this author seems to be a bit ignorant on how the safety case for plants is built. Who cares if we refine the probability of an event is if the plant is already designed to withstand it?

Technically, the Fukushima plant was also already designed to withstand this type of event. It had sufficient backup power systems necessary to continue operating the cooling pumps in the event of a catastrophic disaster of this type.

Where they screwed up was in the redundancy of the backups. This is unfortunately a fairly common failure mode in engineering designs. Say a single diesel generator has a 10% chance of failing to start up if you try to run it during an emergency. People then naively think that if you just put 6 diesel generators into the design, then that reduces the statistical probability of failure to 1 in a million. The chance of all six generators failing is (10%)^6 = 1 in a million.

That's the correct math for generator failures due to independent internal causes. But everything changes when you talk about external causes. Suddenly you have a cause like, oh, say, a tsunmai, which can affect all the generators simultaneously. The failure mode for each generator is no longer independent, and your redundancy does nothing to decrease the odds of a failure. All they had to avoid this effect was put the generators and diesel fuel tanks in different places. But no, the typical Japanese obsession with order and symmetry* mandated that they put all their generators in a row in the same place. And the tsunami took them out and contaminated their fuel all at once. Indeed the two newer Fukushima reactors where the generators and fuel were stored in a different location got through the earthquake and tsunami just fine.

* I rag on the Japanese, but the same thing happened with the Space Shuttle Challenger. They were having problems with poor O-ring seals in the solid rocket boosters. So to reduce the probability of a failure, they just added more O-rings. That worked to stop the independent failures (burn-through due to improper seating of an O-ring in one spot). But when an external factor popped up which caused all O-rings to fail simultaneously (cold weather), the safety of the redundant O-rings was negated.

Comment: To little too late (Score 2) 77

by Solandri (#47536999) Attached to: Compromise Struck On Cellphone Unlocking Bill
This is kind of a double post, but it's important enough to warrant a separate post.

Unfortunately, Congress has dilly dallied on this issue for too long. We're now past the point where mandating carriers unlock phones will help. There are still phones which will work across a broad range of carriers, but they are now few and far between. Most of the newer phones are limited in their frequencies so they'll only work fully with one carrier. Take it to another carrier and you'll either suffer degraded service, or even lack certain service like LTE. So even if you can unlock your phone from the carrier, it won't do you any good because you'll lose 4g or even 3g capability if you try to use it with another carrier.

The only thing that will help now is a law mandating that carriers must provide service to any phone a customer brings with them that's capable of operating on their network. That will open up the markets so that manufacturers begin selling multi-carrier and world phones directly to customers (bypassing the carriers). You can still buy a phone from Verizon if you really want, and it'll be crippled so as not to work with any other carrier even if unlocked. But the smarter person would buy the version of the phone sold by the manufacturer at Best Buy or Amazon which supports enough frequencies that it'll work with any carrier. That's actually what Google did with the Nexus 5 - it supports enough frequencies to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and a bunch of other international carriers. It's technically capable of working on Verizon (with LTE in areas where Verizon provides band 4 - New York and Los Angeles from what I hear), but Verizon blacklists it so you can't use it on their network. What we need is a law making it illegal for Verizon to do that.

Comment: Re:I don't see what good unlocking does (Score 1, Informative) 77

by Solandri (#47536977) Attached to: Compromise Struck On Cellphone Unlocking Bill

The "retarded" Verizon specific phones are actually some of the most compatible phones you can buy today. Not only do they work on the Verizon CDMA and "bastardized" LTE networks, but they include full functionality for GSM and HSPA networks. I have two Verizon phones, right at this moment, that I'm using full time on other networks with full capability. My Verizon iPhone 5S is currently being used on an AT&T postpaid plan. All LTE, HSPA, and GSM functions work with 100% compatibility. My Verizon LG G2 is being used on T-Mobile with full LTE, HSPA, and GSM services. Nearly every phone worth having today is fully compatible with the GSM/WCDMA (HSPA) network technology. Phones are becoming more compatible, not less.

That's not quite true. CDMA phones with LTE have GSM SIM cards because the LTE spec requires it. Most of them also have GSM capability, while the GSM-only versions don't have CDMA capability. So that respect you're right that Verizon and Sprint phones have better global compatibility than GSM-only phones.

However, a lot of newer phones are limited in which frequencies they support. Your Verizon G2 for example only supports LTE at 750 and 1700 MHz. Verizon's LTE bands are at 700 and 1700 Mhz. T-Mobile's and AT&T's are at 1700 Mhz. Sprint's however are at 800, 1900, and 2500 MHz. So your phone won't get LTE with Sprint.

Unfortunately, Congress has dilly dallied on this issue for too long. We're now past the point where mandating carriers unlock phones will help. There are still phones which will work across a broad range of carriers like your G2, but they are now few and far between. Most of the newer phones are restricted in their frequencies so they'll only work fully with one carrier. Take it to another carrier and you'll either suffer degraded service, or even lack certain service (like no LTE on your Verizon G2 with Sprint). So even if you can unlock your phone from the carrier, it won't do you any good because you'll lose 4g or even 3g capability if you try to use it with another carrier.

The only thing that will help now a law mandating that carriers must provide service to any phone a customer brings with them that's capable of operating on their network. That will open up the markets so that manufacturers begin selling multi-carrier and world phones directly to customers (bypassing the carriers). You can still buy a phone from Verizon if you really want, and it'll be crippled so as not to work with any other carrier even if unlocked. But the smarter person would buy the version of the phone sold by the manufacturer at Best Buy or Amazon which supports enough frequencies that it'll work with any carrier. That's actually what Google did with the Nexus 5 - it supports enough frequencies to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and a bunch of other international carriers. It's technically capable of working on Verizon, but Verizon blacklists it so you can't use it on their network at all. What we need is a law making it illegal for Verizon to do that.

Incidentally, for anyone cursing CDMA in the U.S. complicating matters, don't. CDMA won the standards war. Your GSM phone uses CDMA - most HSPA implementations are wideband CDMA. It's only because the U.S. didn't mandate GSM and allowed carriers to try out different technologies that a superior tech - CDMA - was able to prove itself in the market and was eventually incorporated into the GSM spec. If CDMA hadn't been around, we'd probably be stuck with 1 Mbps or slower data speeds today. (LTE works very similarly to CDMA, except in the frequency domain instead of the code domain. Each phone is assigned an orthogonal set of frequencies, while in CDMA they're assigned an orthogonal set of codes.)

Comment: Re:11% fuel efficiency improvement (Score 2) 136

by Solandri (#47531729) Attached to: Will Your Next Car Be Covered In Morphing Dimples?
I can think of lots of reasons.
  • It's expensive. Stamping or rolling a sheet of metal into a flat shape or single-curved is quick and easy. Adding lots of little dimples takes time and adds cost. While I can't say how much cost, some or most of the fuel savings may be offset by additional energy consumed during manufacturing.
  • The mechanism for forming the dimples may not be cost-effective. A similar idea was tried with planes - NASA drilled lots of holes in the wing and attached suction tubes to keep the boundary layer attached, leading to laminar flow over the entire wing and better wing efficiency. That's the opposite of what you're doing here (the dimples disrupt laminar flow and cause the airflow to detach and become turbulent prematurely, which actually reduces drag because the air doesn't "stick" to the car as well). But the drawback may be the same - the weight and space of carrying all that sucking equipment completely offset any fuel and cost savings.
  • People don't like it. Auto manufacturers would love to eliminate the cost of the shiny clearcoat layer on top of the paint. But buyers love smooth and shiny - it sells new cars. So they don't.
  • It'd be a lot harder to clean. Dirt and other material like dead bugs and bird droppings would tend to collect and dry in the dimples. With a smooth surface, you can scrape these off. With dimples, the crud would collect inside, and you're going to take a lot more work to clean it out. Maybe enough for an owner to say "screw this, it ain't worth an 11% fuel savings." Deformable dimples may fare better, but the dried crud may prevent the dimple from completely flattening, leaving you with a similar problem.
  • It causes lots of reflections. Most of your car's body is flat panels so you only see reflected sunlight at certain angles. You deal with this by temporarily covering your view of the offending car withy our hand, until you've changed angles so there is no more glare. But put a lot of small curved surfaces on a car and they will reflect sunlight into your eyes from almost any angle. Are you prepared to drive on a road where every car is covered with lots of little glare dots from the sun? It would be less of a problem if cars were painted with flat paint, but see two bullets above.
  • Easier/more annoying to vandalize. Antisocial kids would run around popping these with a pin while your car was parked. You wouldn't notice it until you were up to speed and the dimple suction mechanism complained of reduced vacuum pressure, so the culprits are highly unlikely to be caught.

And those are just off the top of my head. That's not to say they're legit - maybe they won't turn out to be that big a problem in practice. But if you can't think of any reason why this hasn't already been done yet other than "it's an auto industry conspiracy!", then you haven't really put a lot of thought into it.

Comment: Re:I also measure distance (Score 4, Informative) 190

Bq seems a fair measure to me. It's a measure of radioactivity. Would you prefer pounds (or kilograms) of X, with no measure of the rate X is releasing radiation?

It's a bad unit to use in this context because it's a measure of individual atomic decays per second. It's kinda like you asking me how far you have to walk to get to the nearest bus stop and me telling you the distance in angstroms. The scale is just completely devoid of any common reference frame for the number to be intuitively useful (not that most people have a common reference frame for radioactivity). That's why Bq is commonly used by people trying to scare the public about radioactivity - when you're talking about a lot of material like, oh, a field, it results in really, really big numbers.

Let's put it this way. A block of soil one square mile by 1 foot deep (790,000 m^3) has a natural radioactivity of 653 billion Bq. If they excavated 1.1 trillion Bq of radioactive material from Fukushima, then they removed about as much radioactive substances as is naturally contained in 1.7 square miles of soil one foot deep. Of course the piece of information that we're missing (and no it's not in TFA) is how much volume of material they removed. If we knew that, we could come up with a ratio and say "Ah hah! The stuff they removed is x times more radioactive than the natural radioactivity of dirt!"

Comment: Re:The problem is... (Score 2) 190

Yes, the point is that it's like MAD and other weapons policies: you don't want to put down your gun (or shield, for that matter) while the other guy is still holding on to his.

MAD doesn't work for self-replicating things like bioweapons. If you put your gun or nuke down, and the other guy still has his and decides to shoot at you, you're screwed.

OTOH, if you destroy your smallpox virus samples, and the other guy still has his and decides to use it on you, well he's just given you a smallpox sample you can use right back on him just as if you'd never destroyed your samples.

The only bioweapon for which MAD would work would be one which kills quickly enough that the target nation is killed off before it can collect samples and send them back to the attacker. But any bioweapon that kills that quickly would be useless because it would kill the victim before he could spread the contagion to others, thus defeating the very characteristic which makes a bioweapon a weapon of mass descruction.

Technology

MIT Combines Carbon Foam and Graphite Flakes For Efficient Solar Steam Generati 110

Posted by timothy
from the science-fiction-future-awaits dept.
rtoz (2530056) writes Researchers at MIT have developed a new spongelike material structure which can use 85% of incoming solar energy for converting water into steam. This spongelike structure has a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam. This structure has many small pores. It can float on the water, and it will act as an insulator for preventing heat from escaping to the underlying liquid. As sunlight hits the structure, it creates a hotspot in the graphite layer, generating a pressure gradient that draws water up through the carbon foam. As water seeps into the graphite layer, the heat concentrated in the graphite turns the water into steam. This structure works much like a sponge. It is a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. And, this setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. If scaled up, this setup will not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.

Comment: Re:There is no "safe" amount of ionizing radiation (Score 5, Informative) 230

by Solandri (#47494067) Attached to: EPA Mulling Relaxed Radiation Protections For Nuclear Power

Yep, I think we can all agree that it's worth a few punkin' headed babies and/or a couple of deaths so the rest of us can have brighter colors and whiter whites.

That's the tradeoff we make with vaccination programs. A small percentage of kids who are vaccinated get sick, and a few of them die every year. But we still vaccinate everyone because the benefits far outweigh those costs.

The flaw in your reasoning (it's a pretty common flawed line of reasoning, not just yours, so I'm not picking on you) is that you're trying to compare against a nonexistent zero state. Radiation can cause death. If there were no radiation, there would be no deaths. Therefore we must avoid radiation. Likewise, if we didn't vaccinate, those kids who died from vaccination wouldn't die. Therefore we shouldn't vaccinate.

To do a correct comparison, you can't compare to a zero state. You must take into account opportunity costs; you have to compare with alternative equivalent states. Without vaccination, far more people would die from the diseases we're vaccinating against. Without nuclear power, the world loses 13% of its electricity. The harm from that far exceeds the few deaths from even Fukushima-level accidents. Or if you replaced that nuclear generation with the next most-viable alternative (coal/gas), the emissions from those are far more harmful than the radiation hazards from nuclear. Even if you managed to replace them with wind and solar, the number of deaths installing and maintaining all those turbines and rooftop panels (roughly 11,000 turbines for a Fukushima-level plant, or 4.8 million homes with 40 m^2 of panels installed on each of their roofs) far exceeds the number that nuclear has killed.*

* Math for the wind/solar comparison:

  • The Fukushima plant had 4696 MWe of nominal generating capacity.
  • Nuclear has a capacity factor of 0.9, so in a year it produced on average 90% of that, or 4226.4 MW.
  • Average wind turbine generates about 1.5 MWe peak.
  • Onshore wind's capacity factor is about 0.25 on the high end, so in a year that turbine produces an average 375 kW.
  • You'd need 11270 1.5MW turbines to equal Fukushima's output.
  • PV Solar using high-end 20% efficient panels generates about 150 W/m^2 peak.
  • Average rooftop installation is about 20 m^2, but the roof size is about 40 m^2. So 6 kW peak.
  • Solar's capacity factor in the U.S. is 0.145. So on average the rooftop would generate 870 Watts.
  • You'd need 4.86 million rooftops to equal Fukushima's output.
  • Working in high places is dangerous. Roofing is the 5th most dangerous job in the U.S., at 34.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers each year.
  • If a solar installation requires 3 roof-top workers and they can do 100 installs per year, you'd expect 51 deaths per year vs. an estimated about 30 deaths from cancer caused by Fukushima's radiation release in a once-per-25-year accident.
  • I can't find stats for turbine worker fatality rates, but wind already kills about 5-10 maintenance workers per year while providing less than 1/10th the world's electricity that nuclear does.

Comment: Re:The patreon model could really work (Score 2) 192

by Solandri (#47492587) Attached to: Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

It only takes something like 1000-2000 regular donors to keep a writer in reasonable comfort

Put another way, if the median income is $45,000, then 1500 regular donors giving 1/1500th of their annual income or $30/yr each will give an author a median income. (In reality, it's less than 1/1500th because the mean income is higher than the median, so the more affluent donors will allow the author to hit the median income with less than 1/1500th of each donor's income.)

I think it's also important to keep in mind that the current book/music/movie pricing model does not scale. A DVD costs $18.95 whether they sell 10,000 copies or 10 million. In every other industry except the IP industries, price drops as sales increase. At first DVD players cost $150 and they only sold a few tens of thousands of them. As their success grew and sales reached into the tens and hundreds of millions, the price dropped to the $25 they're at now. The Patreon model brings this price scaling to the IP industry (much to the chagrin of the established players). If you're supporting an author in a niche market that you really enjoy, you'll be encouraged to donate a lot to him just to keep him writing. But if the author is enjoying J.K. Rowling-level success, you'll be less inclined to donate as much or won't donate at all, knowing that he's already getting plenty of money from other supporters.

Comment: Re:About time (Score 5, Informative) 230

by Solandri (#47492531) Attached to: EPA Mulling Relaxed Radiation Protections For Nuclear Power

It's good to see the EPA finally considering relaxing some of its uptight, business-hostile regulations. No wonder the US is losing ground to the developing world when for a few decades it has pushed this regulatory regime that holds industry back and has really harmed wider adoption of nuclear energy.

You're trying to be sarcastic, but your words are quite literally true. 0.25 mSv is:

  • 12x the radiation you get from a chest x-ray
  • 6x the radiation you get from a 5 hour airliner flight
  • 3.5x the radiation you get from living in a stone, brick, or concrete house for a year
  • about half the radiation dose from a mammogram
  • an eighth the radiation dose from a head CT scan
  • 1/28th the radiation dose from a chest CT scan

If the 0.25 mSv limit were applied consistently to other aspects of our lives, we'd ban mammograms and CT scans, limit people to a dozen chest x-rays in a year, restrict pilots and stewardesses to just 30 hours of flight time per year, and severely curtail brick, stone, and concrete as building materials. If the proposal someone made below to reduce the limit to 0.025 mSv were carried out, we'd have to ban air travel and chest x-rays altogether.

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