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Kim Stanley Robinson Says Colonizing Mars Won't Be As Easy As He Thought 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the canceling-my-retirement-vacation dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from io9: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy filled us all with hope that we could terraform Mars in the 21st century, with its plausible description of terraforming processes. But now, in the face of what we've learned about Mars in the past 20 years, he no longer thinks it'll be that easy. Talking to SETI's Blog Picture Science podcast, Robinson explains that his ideas about terraforming Mars, back in the 1990s, were based on three assumptions that have been called into question or disproved:

1) Mars doesn't have any life on it at all. And now, it's looking more likely that there could be bacteria living beneath the surface. 2) There would be enough of the chemical compounds we need to survive. 3) There's nothing poisonous to us on the surface. In fact, the surface is covered with perchlorates, which are highly toxic to humans, and the original Viking mission did not detect these. "It's no longer a simple matter," Robinson says. "It's possible that we could occupy, inhabit and terraform Mars. But it's probably going to take a lot longer than I described in my books."

Comment: Re:Despicable tactic, but... (Score 1) 266

by Matt_Bennett (#48596801) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

Once upon a time, the medical opinion about ulcers was that they were caused by stress, it was not until 1994 that the NIH published the opinion that most ulcers were caused by Helicobacter pylori, and in 2005 the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Marshall and Warren. About the first time I heard about antibiotics curing ulcers was by a radio call-in doctor (an actual MD) in the mid-80's- he also preached about a cure for asthma involving long term antibiotics. It may be only applicable to specific types of asthma- but there has been very little research into this cure (admittedly, there are real risks to long term antibiotic usage)- which involves not a new medicine, but the administration of an existing medicine.

Unfortunately, it is an economic decision by the drug maker- continue with an existing, proven (multi billion dollar/year) revenue stream, or risk that revenue stream by developing a treatment with a very small revenue potential (I believe your estimates for the cost are *way* higher than the market would bear).

The unfortunate part is that health care is not about health first, it is about money first.

Comment: Re:Despicable tactic, but... (Score 2) 266

by Matt_Bennett (#48593265) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

Well, if you accompany discontinuing the product with publicity about how dangerous it was (but then take the medicine, tweak the formula slightly, and re-release), nobody will be able to make the generic in a profitable way. This happened with Glaxo and Salmeterol inhalers (sold as Serevent). Like any other drug, it is dangerous when not used properly. I found it was the only drug that relieved my asthma symptoms (the discussion about how it is far more profitable to treat as opposed to cure asthma is something for another time)

Always very expensive, but shortly before it was to turn generic, it was discontinued. They then combined Salmeterol with a steroid, re-released it, and continued to make a huge amount of money off of it. It has since lost patent protection, but no company is willing to make a generic, for fear of lawsuits I'm sure. Glaxo can afford a reasonable defense, but I'm sure the generic companies don't have the profit margins to be able to afford the risk of a suit.

Comment: Please don't get an MBA (Score 4, Insightful) 317

by Matt_Bennett (#48552355) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Are Any Certifications Worth Going For?

An MBA is a vehicle to convince other people that have MBAs that you believe that an MBA is necessary to work with other people that have MBAs that share in the misguided notion that having an MBA qualifies you to manage a business. Really, it is a ticket into a network of folks that believe that shortcuts and not actual work create a business.

Most certifications are like MBAs- except that they are shortcuts for HR resume screens, who use them as an easy filter and to avoid accountability that the people that they let through are qualified... "these applicants are CERTIFIED!" ... If you have the experience and you know someone, you will get the job, if not, you're in the pool of "everyone else" that has a certification. The most important factor in getting a job is networking.

Comment: Re:On the other hand... (Score 1) 700

by Matt_Bennett (#48209005) Attached to: FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors' Chips.

No, that's not how CDC drivers work under Windows. Even *if* you work with the standard microsoft CDC drivers, you still need a signed .inf file, and you have to get that through the WHQL process. FTDI used their own drivers because the built in CDC driver from Microsoft was an unreliable POS (historically).

Comment: Look back to why the laws were there originally (Score 3, Interesting) 149

Vast generalization here (I'm not a legal scholar)- but it looks like laws have been put in place to 1) encourage something viewed as good by the legislature or 2) discourage something viewed as bad by the legislature. What is viewed as "good" or "bad" is up to the legislator, the folks that the elected the legislator, the folks that the legislator represents, and most important to our current system of campaign finance, the folks that pay for the legislator's campaign. Airbnb is ostensibly a mechanism to allow people to profit from use underutilized space. Unfortunately some of the underutilized space is contained in clauses in lease agreements that the Airbnb hosts chose to ignore.

The hotel laws were put in place because of abuses. Rent control was put in place because of abuses and to encourage affordable housing. The "bad actors" are those that are abusing the system at the potential risk to their customers- and they are customers, not guests. Because of the immense amount of money moving around, there will be abuses and bargains. Leave it up to a company to determine the bad actors, and they will invariably call out those that pose the greatest risk- and since it is a profit driven company, risk is about money, with no consideration given to public welfare (ostensibly the government's arena).

Comment: Re:Took the USB organization close to 20 years... (Score 1) 191

by Matt_Bennett (#47662089) Attached to: Reversible Type-C USB Connector Ready For Production

It most definitely is *NOT* 100W with 5V- the power delivery is negotiated to figure out what each end (and the cable) can handle, and it boosts the voltage (decreasing the resistive heating in the cable). The USB Forum has been working on this for quite a while- don't know how it will all work out, but as most things committee based, nothing was put in the specification without a great deal of discussion and analysis.

Comment: Re:PIC (Score 1) 138

by Matt_Bennett (#46964139) Attached to: A 32-bit Development System For $2

Microchip's ICD is awful? Well, it isn't JTAG (for most chips, but the PIC32 does support JTAG debugging), but the ICD hardware supports all PICs (8, 16, 32 bit) and is available at what appears to be competitive to Atmel's tools (Atmel as an example- their low-end programmer the AVRISP is about the same price at Digikey as the PICKIT3) You can spend more and get more capability no matter what. It seems to me that the debugger that people complain about the most is the one they use the most, no matter the architecture. An ICD is not an ICE- and it doesn't seem like a true ICE exists anymore since nobody was willing to pay the huge price for the development system- ICDs pretty much rely on hardware in the part itself. The cheap generic JTAG debuggers at sparkfun don't get stellar reviews. My experience is that debuggers are a lot like Camaros- everybody has one, and all of them are limited by the person in control.

Comment: Re:PIC (Score 2) 138

by Matt_Bennett (#46962067) Attached to: A 32-bit Development System For $2

Higher speed? The max speed on a 32 bit AVR is 66MHz, with 1.5 DMIP/MHz, the max speed on a PIC32MX is 80MHz at 1.65 DMIP/MHz. You can do development on Windows, Mac or Linux with MPLABX for every 8, 16, and 32MHz PIC in Microchip's stable. Microchip's 16 and 32 bit compilers are GCC based (but free versions are limited to -O1 optimization). The newest PIC32, the MZ, will do up to 200MHz.

If you prefer using AVR, great, but at least make your comparisons based on reality. The hard part of doing any development is not the core you're working on, but the code you put into it.

Comment: Re:seems like a back door (Score 2) 566

by Matt_Bennett (#46947991) Attached to: Let Spouses of H-1B Visa Holders Work In US, Says White House

This is anecdote, not data. The median wage for all approved H1B visas during FY2011 was $70,000, the median wage for in the category that includes engineers was $78,000, $72,000 for computer related (source data, www.uscis.gov). Companies like H1B holders, because, in terms of total cost, they are less expensive to employ than US citizens/green card holders/otherwise legal residents. Without H1B, more jobs would be offshored, we do get the benefit of the money the H1B holder being spent in the US.

Believe me, if they could find an American to do this job, they would have, and believe me, there's no one passing up $3-400,000 a year engineering positions at top flight companies. There really are jobs that need immigrant workers to fill, because there really are no Americans to do them.

You left out a very important part, after "there really are no Americans to do them" at a salary companies are willing to pay.

Comment: Re:That VGA cable it's using... (Score 1) 59

by Matt_Bennett (#46833411) Attached to: DIY Wearable Pi With Near-Eye Video Glasses

This doesn't use the VGA output from the Raspberry Pi- it uses the composite video output. 75 ohm coax isn't necessarily thin, but for short distances and the type of video they are talking about, even audio cables may be "good enough." As in "good enough" to get the resolution you would expect from composite video.

Comment: Re:What's the range of an EMP? (Score 1) 271

In Forstchen's book (and according to what I've read) it would take a minimum of well placed 3 nukes in the upper atmosphere to cover the continental US- basically line of sight. I believe it doesn't take a particularly big nuke.

A Faraday cage may protect your devices, but only if the cage is complete- any wires in or out could defeat the purpose and propagate the high field strength (at least high enough to do damage) inside the cage. Since the risetime of the signal is very, very fast, even a tiny crack in the cage would be enough to let in a damaging amount of energy.

Comment: Re:A faraday cage has to be grounded to earth. (Score 2) 202

by Matt_Bennett (#46538813) Attached to: Earth Barely Dodged Solar Blast In 2012

Oh my, AC has absolutely no idea about how electricity works.

Electricity always flows in a loop, every time, without exception, period. No loop, no current. No current, no energy. Sometimes the loop includes the capacitance of one disconnected piece of metal next to another, but that also limits the current, and therefore, energy. Sometimes the insulation breaks down, or the field is strong enough to cause an arc to jump the gap.

If welding on your vehicle caused a problem it is because you put the ground clamp in the wrong place, and current passed through something it shouldn't have, which could be because something you thought was a good ground wasn't. Battery connected or disconnected makes no difference.

If a thing's worth having, it's worth cheating for. -- W.C. Fields