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Comment Re:Business subsidies need to be revisted (Score 2) 211

I guess you've never heard of the tiny towns in the Louisiana swamps that still don't have landline telephones?

Those towns are so out of the way, there's no profit in providing phone service. The idea of the universal telephone fee was to save up enough money so towns like that get connected to the rest of the world. We did the same thing with electrification in the 30s and 40s. It works. Every now and again, there are news stories about some small podunk town getting phone lines for the first time.

Switching those fees to broadband is supposed to serve the same purpose. Since landline telephone service is no longer as important, it makes sense to shift the priority from giving those people landline phone service to broadband internet access.

Subsidies are not universally a bad thing. This is a service that would not otherwise be provided because of the high cost. It's not like with farm subsidies, where farmers will probably plant some kind of crops no matter what. There are some folks who will never get broadband service of any kind unless we spread the costs of providing it across society. Whether or not that's a good thing or not is a more philosophically complex question than the one you seem to pose ("giving" money to companies to do what they would do anyway.

Comment Re:Original Research? (Score 2) 385

Or none. The number of Wikipedia contributors has fallen over the last couple years. This is an attempt by Wikimedia to boost the quantity (and quality) of contributors. But it fails to address the basic flaw in having real experts come in. I can edit articles all day, but as long as some friggin' kid with an obsession can simply revert any edits I make, it's not worth the effort to monitor.

Comment Re:Isn't it obvious? (Score 1) 385

Or you know....maybe it's because the corrections are reverted within the hour by some zealous guardian who can't stand to see the article corrected. It's almost impossible to correct articles because some other wingnut will simply come by and delete your work. It's not worth the time, if the result is all your effort ends up edited out.

Edits locked on bleeding edge research? On Wikipedia? That defeats the purpose of open source knowledge. Maybe you should rethink your premise.

Comment Re:To any would-be volunteers... (Score 1) 475

Seriously? You think there's that kind of bandwidth available? YouTube is entirely out of the question. The power simply isn't there for on-demand internet type applications. You'd have to code a specialty transmission protocol so that your transmitting antenna doesn't waste power trying to communicate instantly with a "last mile" located millions of miles away. You'd even want to limit (or eliminate) video transmissions to preserve power. Even for DirecTV, you'd need to reconfigure a few satellites and power them waaaaaay up. It's a long way to Mars, and we don't typically transmit at sufficient power to get TV level bandwidth all the way there.

While our deep space probes can accept higher bandwidth streams, they transmit at modem speeds to limit transmission power. There also has to be a lot of error correction (basically sending more than the minimum number of bits), which also cuts down on bandwidth. Unless you want to spend your electricity on transmission, instead of stuff like life support, you're going to be limited in your bandwidth for web applications. Probably limited to 0, if you want to maximize mission success.

All this stuff also assumes the mission is performed while Earth and Mars are within line of sight. There's a good portion of the year when communications between planets is impossible because you'd have to communicate through the sun (more properly, the sun's magnetosphere, which would effectively scramble any comms).

Basically, unless you want to waste resources on what is essentially entertainment, you have to wait until there's sufficient infrastructure on Mars, set up local data centers, and periodically sync data from Earth. Presumably, you'd just perform periodic syncs, instead of direct access, since the Sun would still be an impediment, and you'd have a minutes-long delay anyway.

If we get some sci-fi like instant communication scheme, of course we might manage something.

Comment Re:Pioneers... (Score 4, Insightful) 475

Pioneers also had a reasonable expectation of finding breathable air, arable soil, animals to hunt for food/clothing, timber and stone for building homes, and drinkable water. Yet, the death rate among most pioneer groups was also unacceptably high (by our modern standards). You almost always had a majority or all of several pioneer groups die in the attempt (Donner party?). In the more modern case of the Spanish, French, and British colonies in the Americas, the colonists had to be supplied from the home countries for years before becoming close to semi-reliant. In the case of the first few British colonies, the mortality rate was in excess of 50% for decades. Even after the US declared independence, the Americans relied on Europe for manufactured goods for most of a century.

Simple is NOT the same as easy. There's a reason why most initial pioneering groups were often poor, felons, or other sorts of outcasts. It's easy to throw your life away if it already really sucks. And they did die. In droves.

Comment Re:Important engineering lessons (Score 3, Insightful) 503

Not to rain on this parade, but Russia figured most of these lessons out a long time ago with the Mir/Soyuz. Even now, the person who spent the longest continuous period in space did it on Mir, not the ISS. And even the US figured out a good number of these lessons with Spacelab. The ISS doesn't provide any really new experience in long term space survival, though it does provide some engineering challenges that Mir did not. And besides, neither the Mir nor ISS are close to operating indefinitely. Both needed regular resupply from Earth (the ISS, in particular). And for all the patriotic rhetoric in the US, the USSR had arguably the better and more successful space program and did it at lower cost per mission (and probably lower regard for human life). Didn't get to the moon, of course, but much more successful at space stations and getting to LEO.

Comment Re:Did they actually SEAL it? (Score 1) 368

5 million barrels leaked out of an estimated reservoir capacity exceeding 50 million recoverable barrels of oil. Recoverable barrels are less than the actual capacity (it's how much the oil company expects to be able to extract). And the recoverable barrel estimate is notoriously conservative. It's always less than the actual amount of oil eventually pumped out. The leak could have gone on for years without emptying the reservoir. So, yes, the well was plugged and not allowed to simply empty out.

Comment Re:The best resolution... (Score 4, Insightful) 238

Kurzweil is more than optimistic - he's just plain guessing. His predictions for the near term are accurate because they don't require big leaps in imagination or technology. His predictions for further out tend to be wrong or loony (many, if not most, of the predictions he made for technology achieved by 2010 back in the 90s were wrong in whole or in part).

His "theory" of technology growth is ridiculous in the face of prima facie evidence. It's true that experts historically underestimate the rate of technology advancement. It's also true they almost always underestimate the field in which explosive exponential growth takes place. In the 1950s, we were dreaming about flying cars and meals in pill form. Who actually predicted the full extent of the internet in our lives back in 1960? Or ubiquitous celluar communication? Or that we wouldn't have just 3 broadcast television stations? Technological progress is a given and the more limited of Kurzweil's predictions are correct because they typically require modest improvements in current technology - but epiphenomenalism, i.e. the singularity, is far from a given.


Kurzweil does a fine job making the simple types of predictions (the type that led to predicting flying cars in the 50s). The problem is that, like everybody, he can't predict the "next big thing". Exponential growth in technology always relies on discovering and exploiting as yet undiscovered technologies, and Kurzweil mostly relies on existing tech. That's fine for 10 or 20 years out but gets progressively worse at predictive power past that (see his predictions for 2010 and beyond made in the 90's, as opposed to the predictions he made in the last 10 years). And, to be honest, most scientists could have (and did) made the same short-term predictions Kurzweil made. It's not a stretch to think that Moore's Law will keep chugging along for at least 5 years and that people in different fields will exploit that.

Comment Tyranny of the Majority (Score 3, Insightful) 117

It's a dangerous idea to let a majority of voters decide things. Think about the Civil Rights Act in the US. If it had been based on direct polling of the public, it never would have passed. The whole point of a representative democracy is that the guys elected (or appointed) to the legislature should, in theory, be wise enough to occasionally act against the wishes of the majority of the public, even if this costs future elections. Doing the "right" thing isn't always doing the popular thing.

It's also the case that you don't always want a simple majority deciding issues. All you would need is a bloc of 51% of the polled members always agreeing to vote the same way. That's how political parties came about in the first place. Even though the other 49% represent almost the same number of people, their voices would be ignored in favor of a slightly larger group.

This type of "Party" might work for a few seats, but I doubt the general public of any nation is sufficiently informed (or intelligent) to decide on general legislation. It also opens the door to allowing small minorities (ethnic, religious, etc) to be completely ignored in favor of larger minorities or majorities (consider the case of Port Chester, NY). Perhaps not such a big problem in Australia but something to consider for direct democracies of all types. They only tend to work in places with very homogeneous groups of people (homogeneous ethnically, religiously, and economically).

Comment Re:Yay for common sense (Score 5, Insightful) 612

Gotta disagree with you. College is NOT a glorified vocational school, even if some people in CS treat it as such.

Any decent college won't claim that the knowledge you gain is worth anything in 5 years. Their purpose is (and should be) teaching some fundamental principles of a particular major discipline (CS, in this case), and, more importantly, a set of attitudes and philosophies that teach you how to teach yourself. In engineering, you know your basic skill set will be obsolete in 5 years (and the Head of our EE dept. told us this before classes even began), so it's more important to get the basic mental framework in place and learn how to learn.

Even at my place of work, some talented high school students could probably be taught how to do the job about as fast and well as college graduates. The difference comes 2 or 3 years down the road. The people most able to keep up with emerging trends and extending their abilities tend to be the ones with degrees. And it tends to be the ones with PhDs or Masters that do better at it. The ones whose skill sets don't seem to expand as quickly or as much do tend to be the ones with less schooling.

"Today's robots are very primitive, capable of understanding only a few simple instructions such as 'go left', 'go right', and 'build car'." --John Sladek