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Comment Re:You really want cheap? (Score 1) 109

Is there a central way to do this versus "the surplus depot" or FleaBay? The only way I've ever seen to get anything useful surplus is to know somebody inside. In my experience, the reasonable used hardware get re-purposed at least once internally before it gets turned loose as surplus, and when it does it's often so old as to be handicapped by old hardware standards which make performance fairly useless.

I bought a used Cisco 2960G two years ago for $200, which is still a low price even by recent Ebay standards, but I knew the guy and got the bare-minimum price the money people needed to make their books balance.

Comment Re:Translation: People are Getting Desperate (Score 1) 184

I went into consulting with the idea that I could go freelance once I had some exposure to it. The company I work for was small at the time, so it seemed ideal.

My impression (still) is that succeeding as a pure IT freelancer is difficult -- there's all the overhead work that's tough to get any compensation for, a fairly unfriendly tax system, healthcare costs and so on.

And then there's most clients who want IT support but don't want to rely on a single person and prefer a company. Some of the clients I worked with left one-man shops for this very reason.

I think it might be viable for some narrow types of IT work -- software development or certain types of infrastructure projects that demand one-time-only high skill sets.

My wife worked marketing freelance for about 5-6 years. She was really only able to build up a pretty small recurring business portfolio, the bulk of her income came from essentially infill and project work.

Comment Re:Avoidance (Score 1) 82

Actually, this points out another possible explanation -- that distance is the effect of ethical behavior rather than the cause. This is not necessarily because the boss explicitly or intentionally demands unethical behavior from his subordinates. Often it's because bad bosses like to surround themselves with yes-men and toadies.

Comment How much of "college" is really necessary? (Score 2) 208

FWIW, I think people are better off with the eponymous well-rounded education, but I also think they're better off with 5 years of global travel, too, but that isn't the kind of hoop-jumping social standard (yet) that a 4 year college degree currently is.

So much of "going to college" isn't about the well-rounded part for probably 90% of the students -- it's about achieving some vocational credential that employers want before they will hire someone. In many cases, the vocational education really has no bearing on the actual vocation. A degree in marketing doesn't actually provide you with the specific education to do any specific marketing job.

And even where this is some kind of specific vocational skill being learned (engineering, medicine, etc), how much of even those educational experiences are spent on classroom instruction that's actually vocationally beneficial? Could we train civil engineers in 3 years instead of 4 by cutting out the crap? Could we train doctors in 6 years or even 5 if we cut out the nonsense? Is it REALLY vocationally beneficial for a doctor to have a semester or year of organic chemistry?

There's so much hand-wringing about the cost of college but almost never does anyone question the underlying assumption that the college experience as we know it is actually beneficial. Much of it seems to be a way of socializing the costs of corporate HR screening and training, much of which would be better for the corporations to do themselves, so they can focus on the specific attributes and skills they want.

And if you think about it, it doesn't even socialize those costs well -- the in-demand jobs demand higher salaries, so where there is demand for workers the corporation is paying some of the inflated educational costs themselves. It all seems to be a giant pork barrel for Universities, who manage to jack of tuition relentlessly without ever reforming a sclerotic educational system that doesn't really produce well-rounded graduates anyway.

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 1) 202

200 parts per million might be insanely rich, but it also means you have to process over 300 pounds of ore to extract 1 oz of platinum. That's nothing to a terrestrial mining operation which might crush several tons of rock to recover a single ounce of gold, but remember they do that with mass-is-no-object machinery and consuming, from a spacecraft point of view, unthinkable amounts of power. In space operations mass and power matters a great deal.

I'm not saying it won't happen eventually, but it won't be profitable until we're measuring cost per pound to orbit in pennies rather than thousands of dollars.

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 2) 202

I considered the near Earth object case. Clearly that's the easiest place to return material from; the problem is that it's coals-to-Newcastle. So far as we know the bulk of that material is stuff that's easy to get here on Earth: silicates, sulfides, iron, nickel etc. Judging from meteors found here on Earth there are exotic materials like iridium, but in trace quantities.

While there's no doubt lots of valuable stuff like platinum up there, I think people are picturing it as floating around as nuggets of largely native metal. The platinum deposits in Canada's Sudbury Basin were delivered by a meteor, but that meteor was fifteen km across. It contained a lot of Pt in absolute terms, but in relative terms the Pt was rare compared to silicates or nickel. The liquefaction of the meteor in impact separated the heavy metals into convenient deposits. If we tried to mine that object while it was in space we'd have had to crush and melt a lot of ore to get much Pt.

Comment Re:Before I needed 12 different cables (Score 1) 275

Huh, I'm down to three, and one of those is only used with some fairly old devices I have. (Actually, I've only got one of those old devices left in service.) Other than that, I just have full-sized and new-phone-standard minis.

I do have a fairly extensive collection of old cables with a wide variety of sizes and shapes, though. So I feel your pain. :)

Comment Re:Enhanced, but not replaced. (Score 1) 275

You should know that Unicomp, which bought the rights to the model M keyboard design (the original gigantic clacky PC keyboard), still makes true model Ms with a variety of connectors including USB. My aunt swears by them. They're not cheap, but as you have clearly noticed, they also last for ages. So if the one you have does give up the ghost, you've got options.

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 4, Interesting) 202

It does not prohibit colonization, it just prohibits exclusive territorial claims.

Right, which does not necessarily prevent claiming materials found as private property.

That said, this is all a tempest in a teapot. At this stage of technology asteroid mining is about the worst imaginable investment anyone could make. It's a purely emotional investment, driven by enthusiasm, and it doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny. We don't even go after the valuable on the sea floor because the cost of finding and raising them makes that unprofitable. If there were hundred pound chunks of refinery-pure platinum floating around in the asteroid belt it would cost more to fetch and return them than they'd fetch on the market.

The economics of space travel is dominated by the cost of moving mass in and out of gravity wells and imparting the necessary acceleration to match position and velocity with targets. It follows that we're looking for stuff with the highest value/mass, and until costs drop by a couple of orders of magnitude there's only one commodity worth returning from space: knowledge. The first physical substances worth mining will be things useful in the pursuit of knowledge -- e.g. water that can be converted to rocket fuel without tankering to the outer solar system.

Comment Re:Probably (Score 1) 196

Income inequality in the USA has increased since 1970 but is far below historically normal levels. The poorest in America are demonstrably better off today than their grandparents ever were. This is true based on housing, sanitation, health care, education, life expectancy, nutrition, entertainment, transportation, clothing, and safety from crime, natural disaster, or accident.

Kind of a mixed bag, isn't it? Historically worse income inequality suggests that whatever present gains we have made are likely to slide back to more historical norms. Given the likely trends in automation globally and trends toward outsourcing to low income nations (which may be an aggregate benefit for global growth, but in the short term tends to undermine gains in developed economies), income inequality is likely to get worse.

And there is some scholarship ( that suggests inequality is as bad as it's ever been -- it's estimated that even ancient Rome had a better GINI coefficient than modern day America.

I've heard economists make similar arguments about *qualitative* improvements that measurements of relative inequality don't represent. Much of material life even for poor people is better than it was 100 years ago -- housing, clothing, food, transportation, are all better made and more durable than they were. Foods that were expensive luxury items even when I was little in the 1970s are commonplace and inexpensive, and compared to 100 years ago it's like a dream -- fresh fruits and vegetables available year round, meat safe, cheap and abundant, including items exotic and unobtainable in many places, like fresh seafood.