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Comment Re:The Nazis Could Have Won (Score 1) 295

To believe that Germany's reason to go to war consisted in exterminating the Jews shows just how brainwashing works over long periods of time.

I suggest you do some reading before resorting to namecalling. Thanks partly to the work mentioned by Fire_Wraith, historical evidence is beginning to accumulate for the race v. race framing of Hitler's motivation for war. Sure, he was optimistic that Germans would prove the strongest race, but it was more important that the struggle of the races is renewed. The Jews played such a central role in Hitler's plans because he thought that they had infiltrated enough of the world's governments that they successfully put a halt to global racial struggle, leaving weak and degenerate races protected by the political artifice of statehood. No doubt this was a totally delusional view of the Jews, which is a prima facie reason to not believe that the Nazis would have held it. But the evidence seems to be stacking up that this is exactly how Hitler saw the situation.

Comment Re:The Nazis Could Have Won (Score 1) 295

The Germans behaved very differently on the Eastern front than they did in France, for example. Most of that can be attributed to expediency. The Eastern front was at the end of incredibly long supply lines, and the scorched earth policy was explicitly aimed to depopulate the areas between the front and the homeland. They thought that if they left any villages unburned, they would fill up with partisans who would sap all the energy from Barbarossa. When Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, they didn't resort to such brutality, but asymmetric warfare from partisans who blend into the population basically undid everything that the US had tried to do, ultimately driving out the Americans and leaving room for ISIS/Taliban. For me, the lesson is that it's a bad idea to try to invade and occupy other countries. You're basically guaranteed to fail.

Comment Call the IT department at a nearby university (Score 1) 508

Universities tend to not keep their computers for more than five years. I've recently that my own university sells computers to a parts scrapper for something like 5c/lb. I've learned this from the scrapper himself, from whom I bought a perfectly boring looking HP workstation with a Xeon e3-1240. I'm using it now and it's a great computer. Anyway, universities are usually not looking to make money from their end-of-life computers. I don't work for a rich college, but even we start scrapping (yes, scrapping - not selling) some computers when they're only four years old. If you caught our IT guy in a good mood and convinced him that you're using these things for an educational purpose, he could very well fill up your truckbed with Dell Optiplexes, and feel like you've done him a favor.

State insitutions sometimes also sell gear in bulk on eBay. Here's is the page for New York State:

I expect you can get a lot of 2010 office computers for $15 a piece. They tend to take out the hard drives, which would be an additional cost, but not a huge one.

Comment Doing something just because it's cool (Score 4, Interesting) 45

I think it's time we admit to ourselves that sometimes, we want scientists to do certain things simply because they're cool. That should count as a perfectly adequate reason, so that we can stop this silly game of pretending that we need to do something cool because we inexplicably started caring a lot about settling some very small and boring scientific question.

I see this a lot when people discuss manned missions to Mars. It's a popular idea, but only because it's cool and full of symbolism we like. It's not because people suddenly became nerds about the history of the Martian regolith, and unmanned missions will simply not adequately satisfy their burning curiosity. Of course, the Mars mission would cost an insane fortune. I'm all for cool things, and humanity is pretty rich, but not that rich. Cloning a mammoth, on the other hand... We might be able to afford that!

Comment For all x, the military wastes millions on x. (Score 1) 154

The military has a huge budget that has to feed and entire ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors. Of course such a system is wasteful, and the scale of military spending is such that it's almost certainly true that the military wastes millions on peanut butter, on underpants, on shampoo, on frying pans and on snake bite kits. Name all the items in your junk drawer, and I bet that the military wastes millions on each of those kinds of things. Wasting millions on satellite capacity doesn't even sound that stupid in comparison. The real shocker would be to find something on which the military actually gets a good deal.

Comment Re:don't look now (Score 1) 35

I take it the point is to use the materials in space to first build something. Only once it's built will people actually come. The reason why our space programs are stuck in first gear is that we don't know how to build things in space from materials that are there. This will change soon, because many of the lessons of automated production techniques on Earth can be applied (with modifications) in space. The problem will be one of sourcing the raw materials from which to manufacture something useful. So that demand is perfectly predictable, and asteroid mining companies are now taking the baby steps they need to take to eventually satisfy that demand.

If you're wondering about what's worth making in space, there are many great ideas. Here is just one: A truly gigantic telescope mirror. It might actually be easy to do, because the factors that make mirror production on Earth so hard are not a problem in space. There is no need to worry about sagging, stress and all these other gravity-related issues. Space-built telescopes could get pretty darn big, The question is: what will they be made of? And the most plausible answer is: materials from asteroids. Like I said, that's just one example.

Comment Small difference between 28 hours and many weeks (Score 1) 20

If the current generation of solar powered drone stays up for more than a day, the next generation might stay up for weeks. Basically, what this shows is that we're pretty close to the threshhold where incoming photovoltaic energy over 24 hours matches the energy needs to keep the thing flying. Just a bit more optimization could mean that the thing takes in more energy than it uses, and then it can basically fly until something wears out. All kinds of interesting things then become possible.

Comment Re:absolute BS (Score 1) 242

I actually think this is great. After all, the patent expires in what, 25 years? I doubt a single engine will be built in that time, but forever afterwards, this idea in the public domain. Consider the alternative, if someone waited to patent this thing until applications were actually ready. Then the patent would prevent competitors from entering the market. But because Boeing hasn't waited, it has basically ensured that nobody will use patent law to put the brakes on innovation when we get around to actually making serious spaceships - which is what this propulsion system is obviously for.

Comment How much infrastructure needs to be there first? (Score 1) 99

Some people think that we should send someone to Mars as soon as possible, even if they can't do much before they return home. Simply leaving a human bootprint would be worth it. Others think that unmanned missions should first build up enough Martian infrastructure to support human "colonists" with a reasonable level of comfort. Only then should people be sent. Where would you put yourself on this continuum? What sort of activities should Martian astronauts be able to do before you would think the expensive trip there was worth it?

Comment Re:if that's true, (Score 2) 487

Agreed. As an opt-in feature, it's actually a good idea. I've written down passwords on stick-it notes for visiting friends, and that sort of opt-in password sharing is also not without security issues. My stick-it notes don't self-destruct. I think it also makes it more concrete who really is a friend - a person with whom you're willing to share your wifi password. I think that's actually a pretty good minimum standard for friendship.

Comment Other indicators of voting preference? (Score 1) 292

It's ironic that we share more of ourselves than ever, pollsters should be having a hard time guessing what we think. From the millions of tweets and Facebook updates and Google searches we collectively make each day, plus modern text parsing and data mining techniques, we should be able to approximate something like the political pulse of the population. I have a feeling that we reveal a lot more with our online behavior than what we ever reveal to pollsters, it's just a matter of someone scooping up and processing the data.

Comment Re:carsickness (Score 1) 435

How about an Occulus Rift for everyone, which shows you "acceleration-appropriate" visuals to prevent carsickness, but makes it look like you're in a completely transparent bubble canopy driving through someplace that's a lot more interesting than where you actually are? If you get bored, you can add things for you to shoot at with your "laser pistol".

Comment Claudico is actually beating one of the pros! (Score 5, Interesting) 93

First of all, this is the link that the story should have included. It includes updates of the scoreboard, etc. On it you will see that even though the brains are collectively beating Claudico, the computer is actually over $100,000 ahead against Jason Les, a feat that almost no human could match. Yes, Claudico is down against the other three, but these are the top players in the world, and most human pros would get clobbered much worse by these guys. Are we really so hard to impress? This is the first time that something like this has been tried, and already, the computer is performing on a level that most poker pros would love to reach.

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe