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Comment: Re:We need faster-than-light travel (Score 1) 65

We can continue looking for them, but studding the entire globe with uber-telescopes, as NotingHere insisted, seems pointless until we can (or, at least, come close to being able to) reach any of them in reasonable time.

Putting telescopes in orbit is a good way of pumping money to the emerging spaceflight industry.

Comment: Re:We need faster-than-light travel (Score 1) 65

Don't send a person, send a blueprint and some way to raise and teach a first generation. We don't have to get there ourselves as long as our "children" can.

And that "some way" would be?...

In all likelihood it would take a fully sapient AI with a humanlike body puppet to raise a human being. At that point, what would be the point? Just accept these sapient spaceships are as good as our "children" as meatbags would be. And of course, since we're talking about sci-fi tropes here, there's always brain uploading.

Also, you're not considering the moral implications of sending a bunch of babies to live or die in an alien planet, in what are likely to be extremely limiting and harsh conditions. Whether you personally care for such things or not, a society that can simply ignore them is unlikely to send anyone anywhere, for the simple reason that this entire project requires a lot of people putting other objectives before their personal interests for a long period of time.

Comment: Re:By-products are not loss leaders (Score 1) 272

by sjbe (#47764599) Attached to: Dropbox Caught Between Warring Giants Amazon and Google

A by-product is something that you produce while making something else. What do Amazon and Google make that produces storage?

A by-product is formally defined as "'output from a joint production process that is minor in quantity and/or net realizable value when compared to the main products". The search and retail services that Google and Amazon respectively provide require a lot of computers and these computers invariably have an excess of hard drive capacity even if they are using storage area networks or similar. (storage is purchased as a step function so there always is some amount of excess capacity even if very small) This means that their primary product (search and retail) generates storage as a by-product. Offering storage related services is a way to recapture some of the value of this excess storage which would otherwise merely be a cost.

Do you mean to say that they need massive amounts of storage in the first place? That doesn't mean it's free.

Nobody said it was free and by-products aren't free either though they can be very very cheap sometimes. They simply aren't as valuable in the marketplace as the primary product. From an accounting standpoint it is a sunk cost - the money has already been spent for a separate purpose and any (rational) decision making about what to do with the asset going forward should not factor into the equation.

Excess capacity for any company on any product can be normally be sold very cheaply. This is how foreign companies can sometimes sell products for what seems like ludicrously low prices even without government subsidies and why accusations of dumping are hard to prove. Once the fixed costs of the product have been recovered, anything the company can sell it for after that is pure profit. They basically can sell it for as low as their variable cost without losing money. Google's variable cost on a unit of data storage is extremely low - probably no more than a few cents per megabyte if not less. It's not free but it's pretty close. A great example of excess capacity with a low cost is text messaging for cell phones. The cost to AT&T to send you a text message is very very very low because the mechanism to send the message simply rides on some gear that has to be there anyway for a separate purpose. Once the decision to put the cell tower in is made, text messages are almost pure profit even though technically they could be considered a by-product. (now their market value is high enough that by-product might not be an accurate description anymore though...)

It may well be that Google and Amazon can maintain storage cheaper than most people, because they do have a lot of it. Google, for example, has put a great deal of research into how to have tremendous amounts of mass storage as inexpensively as possible.

I'm a cost accountant and what you said here is 100% correct. They are able to achieve economies of scale that few others can match.

That takes advantage of economies of scale, and has nothing to do with by-products.

You are conflating two accounting issues that are properly separate. Google gets storage very cheaply on a per-megabyte basis because they buy huge amounts of it and have cost effective infrastructure to make use of it. They end up with large excess amounts of it because of the nature of their primary business (not data storage) which effectively makes it a by-product to Google. From an accounting standpoint this is no different than how oil refineries generate natural gas as a by-product when refining oil into gasoline. They would have to have the storage whether or not they went into the data storage business. By going into the data storage business they are attempting to get market value for that by-product rather than simply writing it down as waste. Either way that excess capacity is a by-product. Calling Google's excess data storage capacity a by-product is logically correct.

Comment: Re:Stupid theory... (Score 1) 195

by ultranova (#47760349) Attached to: How the Ancient Egyptians (Should Have) Built the Pyramids

I mean, can you IMAGINE the dam structure you'd need to create a pool of water deep enough to float a block of stone to the top of the pyramid? Hint, it'd dwarf the pyramid!

Not really. Remember, the pyramid gets less wide towards the top. So your dam walls only need to be higher than one layer of stones: after a layer of is finished, move the walls on top of its outer edge and refill. Sure, you need a system of levees to get the ships to the lake at the top of the growing pyramid, but that's okay: it can just rest against the pyramid wall. 45 degree rise is no problem if you can move weight one bucket at a time.

And if you use windmills to pump the water, you don't even need all that much human labour.

Comment: Everyone is a taxpayer (Score 1, Informative) 192

by sjbe (#47757377) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

Then they aren't taxpayers, are they?

Sure they are. I assure you that the priest who is fully supported by his congregation is taxed on his "earnings". A housewife still has to file and is responsible for the taxes on the spouses income even if they had no role in actually earning it. All those people still pay sales, use, gasoline, excise, etc taxes. It's essentially impossible to not be a taxpayer on some level.

Comment: Incompetent engineers (Score 1) 192

by sjbe (#47757321) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

I'm not familiar with the device, but the engineer in me want's to believe that no one would design a system with such an obvious weakness.

I run a company that makes wiring harnesses and I am an engineer (as well as an accountant) myself. I assure you that there are a LOT of idiots who would would design such a stupid system. I get to deal with some of them on a semi-regular basis.

We like to pretend here on slashdot that engineers are universally good at their job and always do quality work but I have several file cabinets full of evidence 10 feet from where I sit that proves that too many engineers are monumentally incompetent idiots. On a daily basis I see drawings that are incomplete, incorrect, badly designed, occasionally dangerous, specify incompatible or needlessly expensive parts, difficult or impossible to read, sloppy, cannot be manufactured and even just plain incoherent. I have seen precisely 7 product drawings (out of hundreds) in the last 5 years where I could build the product detailed on the print without asking even a single question or correcting some error. This is quite simply bad engineering by people who aren't very good at their jobs.

The fun part of engineering is figuring out a clever solution to a problem. The harder and less fun part of engineering (but probably the more important part) is documenting the solution in such a way that others can understand and replicate your solution and adjust/debug it if necessary. People who can write good quality work instructions are a shocking rarity even among very smart people. A lot of engineers will take easy shortcuts even when it results in a worse and more expensive product in the long run.

Comment: Government can and do earn money (Score 0) 192

by sjbe (#47756151) Attached to: $75K Prosthetic Arm Is Bricked When Paired iPod Is Stolen

Last time I checked, the government doesn't earn money.

Not even remotely true. Governments are perfectly capable of earning money when they choose to. Governments can and do own things and can behave very much like private businesses if they want to. In China and Egypt and Russia (and many more) have huge swaths of the private economy are outright owned by the government. The fact that the US government generally refrains from trying to make a profit and behaving like a private enterprise doesn't mean they cannot or do not. For a time in the very recent past the US government literally owned GM and Chrysler which means the US government was for a time in the automobile manufacturing business.

Not to mention that a government can literally "print" money if they want to. The Federal Reserve technically makes a profit every year though that doesn't really mean much in reality.

Taxpayers do.

Some do and some do not. People who stay home to raise children often do not earn any money. Religious leaders are often supported by tithes or donations earned by others. Elected officials and judges are typically supported by taxpayers.

Comment: Re:My opinion on the matter. (Score 1) 779

by ultranova (#47753745) Attached to: Choose Your Side On the Linux Divide

making the init system a large complex system that does lots of things rather than the old school ideology of doing one thing and doing it well

Which init scripts didn't do. They approximated what's really dependency system (B and C need A to be up before starting, and D needs both) with a bunch of sequentyally-ran numbered scripts. The end result was both inefficient and fragile.

Comment: PID1 - A Controllable Master Control Program (Score 4, Insightful) 779

by LordMyren (#47753247) Attached to: Choose Your Side On the Linux Divide

Launchd is the young whippersnapper on the block. Solaris has had daemon administration for years.

The old guard is a huge fan of PID1 doing it's thing then going away: it's up to everyone else to manage the world after PID1 kicks everything off. The new world- the people who like systemd- are enthusiastic beyond belief to have a PID1 which serves as a master control point where the system can continue to be managed. Every systemd subsystem has a DBUS API we can program and talk to, we can schedule coordinate and manage processes over systemd's core DBUs endpoint- this speaks of the new dawn where we might not be able to hack our shell scripts to do whatever, but we can write higher level code to effectively manage their operation. Which is something that royally sucked egg in the old guard's world.

Sure some of this could sort of be dealt with by continuing to add more shell scripts. But the init script world is mess. Individual daemons have radically different ideas of what kind of responsibility they need to handle in their init scripts and even though for the most part the skeleton is visible across all, it's a hack job that outsiders have to wrack their brain to understand. Conversely, systemd gives us uniform control over the system: the master control program PID1 that is systemd will let us start/stop things, AND will tell us the status of things (over either shell interfaces or DBus).

I look at this more like the innovation of steering- which permitted four wheel vehicles- than I do a particular engine configuration (different muscle, same end). Sure you could get there with the old two wheel drive cart, but as it turns out you have a lot more flexibility when the platform has consistent stability that permits being added to. Where the cam goes is an argument that affirms the lie that systemd is just a really complex initscript: it's not, it's a resident system control daemon.

Comment: Re:Dangers of extrapolation (Score 1) 143

by sjbe (#47750355) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

Wouldn't the Air BnB customer feedback system take care of hosts who were "bad actors"?

Not necessarily and only after the fact. A hotel chain has a reputation to maintain and generally they are operating as ongoing concerns. AirBnB users (both guests and renters) are under no such long term pressures.

It seems the government is only concerned about the bad actors from the standpoint of violation of their tax and monopoly preservation regulations.

I think that is overly cynical. The government and its elected officials generally do care that the people under their care are safe and happy, even if their ultimate motivation is just to get re-elected rather than some deep level of humanity. And a government being concerned about attempts to circumvent their powers of taxation shouldn't be terribly surprising. Taxing travelers is a great way to bring money into the area from outside without having to tax the people that elect them. Shouldn't shock anyone that such an easy taxation target would be valued highly by government officials who want to get re-elected.

If a housing unit is safe for rental for the long term, it should be safe for short term guests so I doubt that there are any genuine safety concerns.

That is true but not really relevant. If someone is considering a long term stay, chances are they are going to look the place over in person before any money changes hands. Not so with a short term hotel-style stay where you will be in and out in a short amount of time. I'm not saying AirBnB is a bad thing but what you are saying is a false equivalency in most cases. There are some serious issues to think about here is all I'm saying.

Comment: Re:I wish we didn't need something like this (Score 3, Insightful) 578

by hey! (#47749109) Attached to: New Nail Polish Alerts Wearers To Date Rape Drugs

No need to paint the male gender as a whole as being filled with sociopaths. It's just the law of large numbers at work. There's maybe 30 million American men in the age rage that are likely to pick up srange women; if just 1/10 % of them are sociopathic predators that's 30,000 predators; and since they *are* predators they'll be overrepresented in young women's encounters with men in pick-up scenarios. Small numbers can produce disproportionate problems. In this case it represents numbers the actions of such a small proportion of men that our ideas about how normal people act aren't a reliable guide.

Drink spiking is a very rare crime. Most studies that look for evidence of it find very little. The highest I found was a government study which found date rape drugs in 4.5% of the cases from four sexual assault clinics. Note this is 4.5% of the cases where the assault occurred, so we're not talking about 4.5% of encounters, we're talking 4.5% of rapes. 4.5% is certainly high enough to be a concern in certain situations, like residential parties at a college. In such a situation a date rape drug detector might actually have some utility, even though it addresses relatively rare actions by a tiny proportion of men.

A bigger concern than what we think of as a "date rape drug" is alcohol itself. The same study that found date rape drugs in 4.5% of sexual assault samples found alcohol in 55%. This result is consistently found across studies: alcohol is very frequently associated with sexual assault -- around half of the time. This is especially concerning because some people (men and women both) don't believe that surreptitiously incapacitating someone with alcohol in order to have sex is rape. They don't distinguish ethically between two people getting drunk and having sex and one of them slipping extra alcohol into a drink.

But the fact remains most men wouldn't do something like that. But that doesn't preclude the possibility that a woman might often encounter the few remaining men who would. A typical man has sex with a small number of women many times; a man who has sex with a large number of women only once is bound to be encountered by women disproportionately often.

Comment: Dangers of extrapolation (Score 1) 143

by sjbe (#47748575) Attached to: Airbnb To Hand Over Data On 124 Hosts To New York Attorney General

I've used Airbnb and never had a shady experience.

So clearly we can extrapolate from your experience that no one ever has had or will have a problem... [/sarcasm]

Look, most people probably will never have a problem because most people are decent law abiding sorts. Those aren't who we are worried about. It's the few really bad ones that hurt, steal from or defraud or otherwise harm someone. If your experiences have been great, that is wonderful but that doesn't mean it isn't worth worrying about both for the visitor and the host. If you want to take the risks involved in using a service like AirBnB I have no problem with that but that doesn't mean there aren't some very important public health and safety considerations to address.

Comment: Pick your battles (Score 2) 147

by sjbe (#47747805) Attached to: Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again

Proper use of terminology is important in science and engineering.

When we get to any actual science or engineering then I will pretend to care. Until then it really is not important in a forum like slashdot to anyone but a few overly pedantic people who don't know when to pick their battles. Just because people here generally care about science and engineering doesn't mean we can't deal with a little obvious imprecision in a description of a shape. No one will be negatively affected by the fact that it isn't truly a torus and most of us are well aware that it isn't actually a torus by the proper defintion. It's like pointing out that the Saint Louis Arch is actually a catenary instead of a parabola as is commonly assumed. Interesting but ultimately not genuinely important 99.999999999% of the time.

Science is to computer science as hydrodynamics is to plumbing.