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Comment: Water/retardant "bombing"? (Score 1) 34

by swb (#47926177) Attached to: A DC-10 Passenger Plane Is Perfect At Fighting Wildfires

Could they encapsulate the retardant or water into some kind of non-flammable shell that would break open on impact? Sort of like giant water balloons or paintballs.

If so, they could repurpose some of the parked B-52s into "water bombers". It's not clear to my quickie referencing if this would be a net improvement in payload but it might be an improvement in payload delivery flexibility if you could choose to unload a partial load or make multiple passes. It looks like the DC10 has to dump the entire payload at once.

I would guess that loadout might be easier with a bulk tank than with bombs, but I think some models of the B52 could be loaded with "clips" of several bombs at once.

Comment: Re:Most taxes are legalized theft (Score 1) 265

by TubeSteak (#47923567) Attached to: New Global Plan Would Crack Down On Corporate Tax Avoidance

But, yes, the US has an unfortunate tendency, since the War of Independence, and the Civil War, continued to the present, of always fighting wars off budget.

That's not even remotely true.
The US has, for most of its history, levied taxes for the explicit purpose of paying for wars.
The Federal Government didn't exist during the Revolution, so the individual states raised taxes.
I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of pre-20th century war taxes, because they were on things like slaves, carriages, sugar, and whiskey.

Just remember, every dollar you spend for something you don't need, is a dollar spent to help the Axis
To pay for the Korean War, Congress heaped taxes on top of the already high WWII rates.
President Johnson cut domestic spending and created surtaxes specifically to pay for Vietnam.
AFAIK, George W. Bush was the first President to categorically refuse to raise any taxes to pay for his wars.

Comment: Re:So, a design failure then. (Score 1) 143

by hey! (#47921919) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

It depends on your design goals.

In Asimov's story universe, the Three Laws are so deeply embedded in robotics technology they can't be circumvented by subsequent designers -- not without throwing out all subsequent robotics technology developments and starting over again from scratch. That's one heck of a tall order. Complaining about a corner case in which the system doesn't work as you'd like after they achieved that seems like nitpicking.

We do know that *more* sophisticated robots can designed make more subtle ethical systems -- which is another sign of a robust fundamental design. The simplistic ethics is what subsequent designers get when they get "for free" when they use an off-the-shelf positronic brain to control a welding robot or bread-slicing machine.

Think of the basic positronic brain design as a design framework. One of the hallmarks of a robust framework is that easy things are easy and hard things are possible. By simply using the positronic framework the designers of the bread slicing machine don't have to figure out all the ways the machine might slice a person's fingers off. The framework takes care of that for them.

Comment: Re:The protruding lens was a mistake (Score 1) 327

by hey! (#47921441) Attached to: Apple Edits iPhone 6's Protruding Camera Out of Official Photos

I don't think you've really grasped Apple's design sensibility. Job one for the designers is to deliver a product that consumers want but can't get anywhere else.

The "camera bulge" may be a huge blunder, or it may be just a tempest in a teapot. The real test will be the user's reactions when they hold the device in their hand, or see it in another user's hand. If the reaction is "I want it", the designers have done their job. If it's "Holy cow, look at that camera bulge," then it's a screw-up.

The thinness thing hasn't been about practicality for a long, long time; certainly not since smartphones got thinner than 12mm or so. They always been practical things the could have given us other than thinness, but what they want you to do is pick up the phone and say, "Look how thin the made this!" The marketing value of that is that it signals that you've got the latest and greatest device. There's a limit of course, and maybe we're at it now. Otherwise we'll be carrying devices in ten years that look like big razor blades.

At some point in your life you'll probably have seen so many latest and greatest things that having the latest and greatest isn't important to you any longer. That's when know you've aged out of the demographic designers care about.

Comment: Re: Translation... (Score 1) 185

by bill_mcgonigle (#47918467) Attached to: WSJ Reports Boeing To Beat SpaceX For Manned Taxi To ISS

Fascism - aren't you paying attention? Since when is SpaceX selling weaponry - their brand of non-violent commercialism is harmful to the health of the State.

If I were Musk, I'd put up my own space station, if this goes to Boeing. I bet one with rotatational gravity and a zero-G hub is now feasible and commercially desireable. The hub can be arbitrarily long as long as the habitat area is decent for humans, lots of work can get done at the best cost and the zero-G area can be expanded modularly.

Comment: Re:Here's another idea... (Score 2) 228

by TubeSteak (#47917177) Attached to: AT&T Proposes Net Neutrality Compromise

I live in Japan [...]

And don't come back with the "US is too biiiiig!" excuse. You have electricity, water and gas, don't you? How did you get that if the area you live in is "Too biiiig!" The density where I live is no more than a place like Nashville, or Arlington Heights, or Jacksonville, or Albuquerque, or Portland, or Anytown, USA.

You're making several wildly inappropriate assumptions:

1. Despite being the size of Minnesota, Japan has the world's third largest GDP
2. Japan has a very high population density
3. Many Americans in low density rural States don't have water and gas, they have wells and a wood stove.
4. Japan and America (and each individual State) have completely different regulatory environments and philosophies. No shit we have different outcomes.

Comment: Re:Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 4, Insightful) 175

by hey! (#47915329) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

I'd argue that we do try to write about the future, but the thing is: it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. ...
The problem is that if we look at history, we see it littered with disruptive technologies and events which veered us way off course from that mere extrapolation into something new.

I think you are entirely correct about the difficulty in predicting disruptive technologies. But there's an angle here I think you may not have considered: the possibility that just the cultural values and norms of the distant future might be so alien to us that readers wouldn't identify with future people or want to read about them and their problems.

Imagine a reader in 1940 reading a science fiction story which accurately predicted 2014. The idea that there would be women working who aren't just trolling for husbands would strike him as bizarre and not very credible. An openly transgendered character who wasn't immediately arrested or put into a mental hospital would be beyond belief.

Now send that story back another 100 years, to 1840. The idea that blacks should be treated equally and even supervise whites would be shocking. Go back to 1740. The irrelevance of the hereditary aristocracy would be difficult to accept. In 1640, the secularism of 2014 society and would be distasteful, and the relative lack of censorship would be seen as radical (Milton wouldn't publish his landmark essay Aereopagitica for another four years). Hop back to 1340. A society in which the majority of the population is not tied to the land would be viewed as chaos, positively diseased. But in seven years the BLack Death will arrive in Western Europe. Displaced serfs will wander the land, taking wage work for the first time in places where the find labor shortages. This is a shocking change that will resist all attempts at reversal.

This is all quite apart from the changes in values that have been forced upon us by scientific and technological advancement. The ethical issues discussed in a modern text on medical ethics would probably have frozen Edgar Allen Poe's blood.

I think it's just as hard to predict how the values and norms of society will change in five hundred years as it is to accurately predict future technology. My guess is that while we'd find things to admire in that future society, overall we would find it disturbing, possibly even evil according to our values. I say this not out of pessimism, but out my observation that we're historically parochial. We think implicitly like Karl Marx -- that there's a point where history comes to an end. Only we happen to think that point is *now*. Yes, we understand that our technology will change radically, but we assume our culture will not.

Comment: Re:perhaps pessimism goes in cycles? (Score 4, Insightful) 175

by TubeSteak (#47914713) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

Anyone remember the seventies pre-Star Wars? You couldn't produce an SF film unless it had a downer ending.

Highlights of the early 70s include the USA abandoning the gold peg, the CIA overthrowing the government of Chile, the Vietnam War showing itself a failure, the oil crisis, Pol Pot killing millions in Cambodia, African countries overthrowing their leaders, etc etc etc.

The 70s were a dark and stormy time.
And don't forget that the Cuban Missile crisis, despite happening the previous decade, had a serious effect on the US psyche.

Comment: Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 5, Insightful) 175

by hey! (#47914675) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

The pessimism and dystopia in sci-fi doesn't come from a lack of research resources on engineering and science. It mainly comes from literary fashion.

If the fashion with editors is bleak, pessimistic, dystopian stories, then that's what readers will see on the bookshelves and in the magazines, and authors who want to see their work in print will color their stories accordingly. If you want to see more stories with a can-do, optimistic spirit, then you need to start a magazine or publisher with a policy of favoring such manuscripts. If there's an audience for such stories it's bound to be feasible. There a thousand serious sci-fi writers for every published one; most of them dreadful it is true, but there are sure to be a handful who write the good old stuff, and write it reasonably well.

A secondary problem is that misery provides many things that a writer needs in a story. Tolstoy once famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I actually Tolstoy had it backwards; there are many kinds of happy families. Dysfunctions on the other hand tends to fall into a small number of depressingly recognizable patterns. The problem with functional families from an author's standpoint is that they don't automatically provide something that he needs for his stories: conflict. Similarly a dystopian society is a rich source of conflicts, obstacles and color, as the author of Snow Crash must surely realize. Miserable people in a miserable setting are simply easier to write about.

I recently went on a reading jag of sci-fi from the 30s and 40s, and when I happened to watch a screwball comedy movie ("His Girl Friday") from the same era, I had an epiphany: the worlds of the sci-fi story and the 1940s comedy were more like each other than they were like our present world. The role of women and men; the prevalence of religious belief, the kinds of jobs people did, what they did in their spare time, the future of 1940 looked an awful lot like 1940.

When we write about the future, we don't write about a *plausible* future. We write about a future world which is like the present or some familiar historical epoch (e.g. Roman Empire), with conscious additions and deletions. I think a third reason may be our pessimism about our present and cynicism about the past. Which brings us right back to literary fashion.

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten

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