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Comment: Re:Probably best (Score 1) 373

by hey! (#49515823) Attached to: Automakers To Gearheads: Stop Repairing Cars

Cars from the 60's-70's suck big time.

Sooo true. My first car was a 1976 Buick Century with 231 cc V6 engine, normally aspirated. The engine wasn't half-bad -- this was before emissions controls other than a PCV, EGR and catalytic converters so it *was* simple to work on -- but in every other respect it was dreadful by modern standards. 105 horsepower to move 3800+ pounds equals 0-60 in 17 seconds and 15 miles to the gallon, baby.

But aside from power to weight ratios, the thing which really sucked about old cars was the suspension and handling. Every time I see a car chase in a movie from the 1970s I laugh because I *remember* driving cars like that. By modern standards they cornered like inebriated hippos on roller skates.

Comment: Re:Environmentalism, much? (Score 1) 117

by hey! (#49511715) Attached to: Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status

By that argument why bother excavating garbage pits, when temples and mausoleums are so much sexier? Well, because temples and mausoleums are consciously built by high status people to convey messages. Garbage (and by extension pollution) tell you things about everyone, including things they didn't think worthy of documenting but turn out to be interesting.

Comment: Re:For the Conservation Crowd (Score 1) 586

by hey! (#49511535) Attached to: William Shatner Proposes $30 Billion Water Pipeline To California

Spoken like someone with absolutely no engineering experience. Engineering as a discipline has this impish habit delivering things most people never imagined possible. This misleads them into thinking that engineering can give them anything they can imagine, particularly if the concept seems simple to them.

Take the suggestion elsewhere in this discussion that water be piped from the Great Lakes to California. Nothing could be simpler in conception -- a 2000 mile long pipe. We've built oil pipelines longer than that. The longest crude oil pipeline in the world is the 2500 mile Druzhba pipeline from Russia to Germany, so a 2000 mile long water pipe should be a cinch, right?

Here we get to the place where engineering starts being a bitch. You see, it's one thing to imagine a cost-is-no-object project, but the truth is cost is the single most important limitation on water use. It does no good to supply water to California almond farmers if they have to sell their almonds at the same price/weight as gold to pay for it. We use a *lot* more water than oil, and we expect it to be way, way cheaper. The current spot price for crude oil is about $57 per barrel -- roughly $1.36/gallon. Agricultural users in California pay something like 3/10 of a penny a gallon -- roughly speaking they expect water to be about 500x cheaper per gallon than oil. If pumping adds a penny to the price per gallon to the price of crude oil, that's no big deal, less than 1%. Add a penny per gallon to the price of water and you've quadrupled your farmer's water cost.

A system that delivers water can be expensive to build, but it has to operate cheaply and reliably. That's why water systems engineers avoid pumps and rely on gravity to do most of the work of moving water. The longest water supply pipeline I know of is the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, which transports water 330 miles with the aid of 20 pump stations. The economic justification for this project? To support gold mining. To give you an idea of how much expense was tolerated when the Goldfields system was built, it replaced a system where water was packed in by camel train. Today users there pay 7x as much per gallon as users in California do for water. Assuming the CA system could be operated for the same price, you could actually dispense with actually building the system. Raising the water price from $0.003 to $0.02 would reduce water consumption in California to sustainable rates -- even under drought conditions. It'd do so by causing agriculture to move out of state. Probably some population too.

Comment: Re:Here's a better idea (Score 2) 586

by hey! (#49510623) Attached to: William Shatner Proposes $30 Billion Water Pipeline To California

Right, and for an encore they can figure out how to get the water from that desalination plant to flow uphill.

People don't realize how much water distribution networks rely on gravity; yes you can pump water to create more head but it raises the operational cost of the system astronomically. It's only practical to supply coastal cities, and then only if there is no water that can feasibly be piped from elsewhere. In California's case that doesn't really solve the problem, which is that their agricultural economy is going to collapse.

Comment: Get rid of the crap sites (Score 1) 261

by E-Rock (#49501917) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Features Would You Like In a Search Engine?

Get rid of the sites that have a single paragraph and then a registration or paywall blocking the rest of the content.

Get rid of the sites that are just copies of other pages with ads.

Or let us easily block a site from appearing in results in the future. Enough users vote a site off, have a human take a look to see if they should remove it for everyone.

Comment: Re:Persistence is not omnipotent. (Score 5, Insightful) 382

by E-Rock (#49500767) Attached to: Can High Intelligence Be a Burden Rather Than a Boon?

Persistence doesn't mean trying the same thing over and over until it works. Persistence is trying to achieve your goals over and over again until you're successful. So you might bang your head on the wall a few times, realize that won't work and then try different things until you break it down.

Comment: Re:Is banishment legal? (Score 1) 270

by hey! (#49498541) Attached to: Gyrocopter Pilot Appears In Court; Judge Bans Him From D.C.

Well, keeping you out of the public eye is an appropriate punishment when you're convicted of a political crime. But we shouldn't recognize political crimes.

If people want to pay attention to what this guy has to say because he gyrocoptered in restricted airspace, that's their business. Even though it's a pretty stupid reason, it shouldn't be a judge's role to sit in judgment of that.

THere's an important flip side to freedom of speech that is often overlooked: freedom of listening. As a citizen you should be able to hear what the government doesn't want you to hear, unless the government has a compelling reason, and even then the restrictions should be narrowly tailored. "That guy just pulled a stupid stunt," is not a compelling reason to intervene in what people choose to listen to.

Comment: There is the small issue of academic freedom. (Score 1) 314

by hey! (#49498337) Attached to: Columbia University Doctors Ask For Dr. Mehmet Oz's Dismissal

You can't fire a faculty member because outside the scope of his duties he expresses an opinion you don't like -- even if it's a clearly crackpot opinion. If you could, Stanford would have kicked Linus Pauling out when he became a Vitamin C crackpot.

The difference, though, is that Pauling was a sincere crackpot -- brilliant people are often susceptible to crackpottery because they're so used to being more right than their neighbors. Dr. Oz is a snake-oil salesman; when he's faced with people who are educated -- not necessarily scientists but critical thinkers -- in a forum he doesn't control, he speaks in a much more equivocal fashion. That shows he knows the language he uses on his show and in his magazine is irresponsible.

So selling snake-oil isn't crackpottery, it's misconduct. But somebody's got to find, chapter and verse, the specific institutional rules of conduct Dr. Oz's misconduct violates. There will have to be due process, particularly if he's a tenured professor, which will probably require lesser disciplinary measures than dismissal be tried first.

Comment: Re:Wow. Just wow. (Score 1) 323

by hey! (#49490245) Attached to: LA Schools Seeking Refund Over Botched iPad Plan

So... They didn't test the iPad / content combo to establish usability / feasibility / usefulness prior to dropping all this cash?

That's speculation. Feasibility is no guarantee of performance.

I read the attached article, and there were two specific complaints cited. The first was security, which is a non-functional requirement; that could well be a failure of the customer to do his homework on requirements but presumably a competent and honest vendor could have done a better job on security. It's often the vendor's job to anticipate customer needs, particularly in projects of the type customers don't necessarily have experience with.

The other complaint is that the curriculum wasn't completely implemented. If the vendor failed to deliver something it agreed to, that's purely the vendor's fault.

Sometimes bad vendors happen to good customers. Bad vendors happen more often to bad customers, but every project involves taking a calculated risk.

Comment: Re:Sign off. (Score 3, Insightful) 323

by hey! (#49490193) Attached to: LA Schools Seeking Refund Over Botched iPad Plan

Well, until the details of how the contract was awarded and how the vendor failed have been thoroughly investigated, it's premature to fire anyone.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for accountability and decisiveness, but picking someone plausible and throwing them under the bus isn't accountability. In fact that may actually shield whoever was responsible.

Comment: Re:Everyone loves taxes (Score 1) 173

Everyone loves the benefits of government-funded infrastructure if someone else is paying for them.

That's not entirely true. If you are in the top %0.001 of the population for income, you could feasibly pay for your own private infrastructure. You buy a plot of land, put a wall around it and hire a bunch of people to protect you, take care of you and cater to your needs. But your standard of living wouldn't actually be any objectively better than it is in contemporary America. In fact it would probably be somewhat worse. Historically societies that organized themselves along these feudal lines were not by modern standards innovative. You mustn't imagine living your untaxed castle enjoying Internet access and the other benefits of a modern science. In the rule by and for the wealthy, guys like Jon Postel or Vint Cerf would most likely have been serfs.

Humanity's greatest resource is the creativity of people -- a resource that tends to be squandered either by totalitarian control on one hand or anarchistic neglect on the other. People who can see no middle ground aren't just blind as futurists, they're historically blind.

Comment: Re:better idea (Score 0) 166

by hey! (#49453713) Attached to: UN To Debate Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Great idea. 2000 years ago they nailed someone to a tree for saying that.

And by a thousand years ago they were going to war in his name. People will seize on anything to rationalize what they want to do, aided by the bottomless human capacity for inconsistency. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if someday to learn there were "Gandhian" terrorists.

Don't get me wrong, I think ideals are important. But we shouldn't expect too much from them. An ideal is only as good as the people who espouse it.

In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.