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Comment that's a porch? (Score 3, Insightful) 113

Look at those long wood beams... perfect, very pretty, and also expensive! Is there a house behind it? Very little on the porch is covered on their website, and it doesn't show up on any of their "sustainability" materials. Meanwhile, it features in half of the pictures on the competition website.

If they want to point out how they're using local materials and these new techniques, maybe get rid of that massive redwood "porch" that is neither local, inexpensive, nor innovative.

Comment economics is not the study of the human world (Score 1) 355

As the author of TFA points out, there are other academic disciplines that study the role of humans in economics and finance. Economics itself is not the study of the human world, it is a study of markets and distributions of resources. It's the assumption that economics has anything to say about REAL markets and resources that is hubris.

This is like a physicist trying to tell you how to drive your car using vector diagrams and inertia calculations. Just because someone may understand the underlying rules governing a system doesn't mean they understand the system.

We need economics to be approached as a hard science. We also need to keep economists away from policy and management roles unless they've shown a talent for good policy and management.

Comment not everything is easy (Score 1) 263

Not everything is as easy as we'd like, or works out the way it logically "should."

The bottom line is that with all of these "revolutionary" technologies, what should be possible and what can actually get done right now are often very, very different things. When an expert says it's going to take "centuries" to solve a scientific problem, it's because it might take many generations to do the necessary re-formations of the approach, the culture, the interface with other scientific disciplines, and the expectations of the public.

Neuroscientists may not know how to frame their problems, and they may not know how to accept help with that from people outside of medicine. It may be 20 years before mainstream neuroscience gets that far. I'm a nanotechnologist. It took us 10 years to figure out we weren't doing mechanical engineering, another 20 years to figure out how to talk with chemists, and another 10 to start talking effectively again with engineers. Some of this stuff is just slow.

Comment Re:We should not protect them (Score 1) 342

If you're at Berkeley, your students are not the main product of academic life. Direct research funding provides more university administrative funds than student fees at just about every UC, and the schools are structured around that economic reality. The guy we're talking about here is an astronomer; there hasn't been growth in professional astronomy jobs in 40 years. Overproduction of astronomers is not a legacy anyone is shooting for here.

At high levels, there are serious dollars involved. UCSD and USC are in a legal battle over a single professor who controls over $100 million in research funds. He employs somewhere around 30 full time staff in his lab, and funds collaborations around the country. Professors like that don't teach classes on the same schedule as others, they pay their departments to have someone else do it when convenient. School sue each other to determine who has the right to employ these guys.

Just like in the business world, it's these high flying folks who are the most difficult. It's not being brilliant that enables inappropriate behavior, it's being powerful. No one is going to worry about dismissing an assistant professor who crosses a line.

Does a school give up millions in overhead income and fire staff because a star faculty member gets anonymous complaints? Which causes a greater loss in prestige: losing an internationally recognized research program or the articles being written about this guy at Berkeley?

Comment Re:Show Me Something Made with C Nanotubes! (Score 1) 100

That's nice, but which of those are actually commercial? Most of the "products" featured in that article are one-off research or demonstration tools.

I've made something just like that. A few years back I made a "commercial" hazardous gas sensing system using CNT transistors, and installed it in an industrial chemical facility. This was based on technology I'd worked on as a postdoc which had been picked up by a Silicon Valley company and further invested in by DARPA. That's how things are supposed to work, right? It was a great technology demonstration, but too expensive to actually compete in the market. The project died as soon as we installed that first system.

The problem is not quality of the nanotubes, or material inhomogeneity (crystallographicly pure CNTs have been available for many years now), nor is it the price of CNTs. The limiting cost comes from the manufacturing processes that must be altered from exiting standards to accommodate CNTs. So... demo devices and prototypes are really not interesting anymore, we've had 20 years of those. We need to be seeing investment in foundries and factories designed to handle this material as an input. That's not going to happen at a university, and it's not likely to come from IBM or any of the other companies that have turned the nanotech PR-granting cycle into a cottage industry. If you're a commercial scientist being funded with grants, you have to be very careful not to get caught up in that death-spiral. The particular paper that this Slashdot summary is about is simply a slight alteration of science and techniques first developed (by IBM!) more than 10 years ago (they switched out titanium for molybdenum while keeping the same device geometry and non-scalable fabrication techniques). It's nice to see CNTs get attention again in a top tier journal, but this is not yet commercially relevant work.

We should be interested when IBM says they're setting up a production line to test manufacture, package, and integrate into assembly some thousands of these chips.

Comment consider what's required to change it (Score 1) 29

Medical devices are highly regulated. Clinical trials are extremely expensive to run, and the FDA can demand new clinical trials every time you push through a software update. At the very least, you have to file with the FDA (for every single software update) a document demonstrating that nothing substantial was changed in the operating of the device.

Comment makes sense (Score 1) 43

This is exactly the kind of threat analysis I would expect from someone who worked as an undergraduate researcher for 13 months in a biolab focused on renewable energy. Go ahead and parse that thought a bit.

How about this: Make sure that when we train someone with all the skills necessary to weaponize biology, we actually have something productive for them to do. It's much better to try to encourage positive behavior from our scientists through incentives (i.e. encourage good jobs, not just endless training grants) rather than plan on them becoming bitter, crazy terrorists.

Comment Re:Off-Earth habitation (Score 1) 684

It's very difficult to have a self sustaining station without a water source. Air and waste recycling, atmospheric seals, etc are not perfect. Like the ISS, you become dependent on deliveries of raw material from somewhere else. It's difficult, but MUCH easier to create a long term habitation somewhere where you can get even just a little water.

As many other posters have said, the moon (which has a little water in some places) would be a much better starting point.

The real way to do this is to follow the actual idea behind the much-derided galaxy program. It would be much more scalable to create a self-sustaining system of small stations at lagrange points (points of local gravitational stability) in the Earth-Moon system. Figuring out how to do that allows us to more practically live in different parts of the solar system.

Comment wow (Score 5, Insightful) 209

Department of Labor required international staffing agencies to pay a minimum of $61k for developers in Dayton. These guys (also in Dayton) paid $40k. Do the students know this was going on? Did the academic senate know this was going on? The staffing company paid the university to make this contract happen. Wow...

Why do universities have an exemption for these rules at all?

Comment Get your head out of your ass (Score 1) 137

What a terrible problem: your organization dedicated to furthering human knowledge was too successful and now has to train a new crop of employees.

Just to be really clear, places like Carnegie Mellon are not education focused institutions, they're research focused. We are absolutely not talking about people with a passion for classroom work. In the early 1990s, the federal government removed the requirements and incentives for contractors to dedicate significant budget to basic research. In many cases, new funding for research would only be available to universities. The idea was to shift all basic research to the univerisities. The people we're talking about are the folks who would have been employed at a large company doing government funded R&D in the 1980s. Now, they're doing government funded R&D at universities. For about 5-6 years in the late 90s, that worked well. Since the dot com bust, it has not...

The amount of spending on academic basic research in the US exceeded the total amount spent on startup companies in the US every year from 2000 to 2013. That's a horrible inversion of capital that implied the university-first research system was failing. It's about time we saw some of this work turn the corner into commercialization, along with a restoration of economic sanity to R&D.

Examples like this show that our new system may be viable long term.

Comment of course (Score 1) 73

Science IS creative. This idea that we're all logic and consensus is silly. You make the most progress by looking for overlooked issues and un-thought thoughts. Being good at public speaking doesn't hurt either. (Being able to do arithmetic in your head, or rattle off facts like a living encyclopedia... not so useful in science.)

Every scientist I know would like to indulge in a crafty hobby. The key word is indulge. Whether you have time or not, you usually feel like you don't.

Comment Re:Rugged (Score 1) 74

I've taken my Surface Pro 1 places I would have never thought to take a laptop. It's my primary business computer as well as my electronic notebook in the cleanroom and the lab (no case other than the occasional clean ziplock style bag - it's very useful for me to be able to seal my work laptop in a plastic bag for a few hours). It's also my vacation gaming machine... and I have a toddler who sometimes manages to get his hands on it. I've gone through 3 broken smart phones in the time I've had my Surface. I'm starting to see some connection issues with the display port and the power connector. It has occasional bluetooth and networking issues. The onboard SSHD is annoyingly small. The speakers are really terrible which is a problem for video conferencing. I think many of these issues were solved in later versions, but I haven't (yet) felt the need to replace it.

I've had business grade laptops break a hinge, crack a screen, burn out a video card, or a completely fail to charge at the same age as this computer.

The Surface was initially marketed as a gimmicky consumer device, but it's surprisingly robust.

Comment this is really a new problem? (Score 1) 259

Amazon (generally) isn't profitable. They need to find ways to make more money to stay in business. Is it surprising that they're trying to get more profit out of their store? As a customer, yes, that's annoying. I would love convenience, flexibility, and low prices for ever and ever. But, every other store on the planet is also trying branding, partnering and placement tricks like this to turn a profit. That candy isle at the grocery store checkout isn't there as a service to the customer.

Comment limitation is not financial (Score 2) 442

The limitation is not financial. Space exploration isn't expensive compared to other large infrastructure projects. Space exploration is very difficult and really exciting to work on. Given the opportunity, it could suck the attention and political talent away from domestic infrastructure projects.

In the upper levels of the government, there are a handful of roles from which a person can realistically manage the combination of congressional and bureaucratic oversight necessary to get "large" things done. If we're going to Mars, the director of NASA needs to be a superstar with a ton of facetime with Congress. That person can be the "visionary" science expert in Washington, or the "establishment" expert in Washington, but he can't "just" be a good administrator.

Chuck Bolden is a great guy, but he's not calling up his personal friends in the VC community like Arati Prabhakar (DARPA director and current "visionary" expert) or playing a key role in high stakes international diplomacy like Ernest Moniz (Sectretary of Energy and current "establishment" expert). Both of those administrators specialize in military related work. As long as the focus in Congress (and the media) is defense, it's going to be hard to break into that scientific leadership role focusing on anything but defense.

Comment Re:And what this tells us... (Score 2) 90

I'm a pretty good scientist, and I enjoy xkcd.

As a physicist, I don't expect the #1 book in "Physics" to be written by a professional physicist (although Randall has a physics degree and has worked a "physics" job). By definition, professional physicists don't specialize in mass market entertainment. Randall does specialize in entertainment, and I appreciate that he's using that expertise to write about science. If you don't like his approach, that's ok; there are other folks out there producing content about science differently.

You've been Berkeley'ed!