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Comment: Re:They will move to a different charging model (Score 3) 450

by radtea (#48024551) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

If the amount of money made from the actual electricity falls too far then the cost will be transferred to a network connection costs.

It doesn't really matter how the accounting is done, utilities are going to have to charge more for power as they sell less of it, because their fixed costs are such a large proportion of their total costs. Fixed costs account for anywhere from 75 to 100% of plant costs: (the data in table 1 appear to mean "fuel cost" when they say "variable cost").

The utilities model is based on the notion that you can recover your capital costs (and more) over the lifetime of the plant. The rapid rise of solar in particular is putting that at risk, and utilities are caught between a rock and a hard place. They can fight by keeping power costs low, and lose, or they can fight by raising their power costs--however they want to do the accounting--and also lose.

Personally, I hope they raise the costs. It will make low-carbon alternatives like wind and solar more attractive.

Comment: Re:BASIC vs. Z80 assembly language (Score 1) 165

by MillionthMonkey (#48021341) Attached to: Why the Z-80's Data Pins Are Scrambled
I dimly recall that method too but IIRC the array couldn't be saved to tape- you needed POKE statements underneath the DIM. There was also another method involving adjusting the SP register to lower the top of the stack and claiming a few kilobytes of RAM for whatever purpose- but that approach had the same problem with not getting saved to tape.

Comment: Re:BASIC vs. Z80 assembly language (Score 1) 165

by MillionthMonkey (#48015327) Attached to: Why the Z-80's Data Pins Are Scrambled
I remember I had a yellow book that was for kids learning assembler, and it had a cartoon CPU with registers for hands and feet. I can't remember the title- I just pulled the ZX81 out of the closet to look for it, but it isn't in the box anymore. I still have the 16K pack and the awful little ZX Printer that sparked onto rolls of aluminum thermal paper.

Comment: Re:BASIC vs. Z80 assembly language (Score 1) 165

by MillionthMonkey (#48011227) Attached to: Why the Z-80's Data Pins Are Scrambled
Yes, it was obviously a very shitty system, since they were selling them thirty years ago for about $99. It was like a 1980s version of a Raspberry Pi. But it did have a Z80 in there and that's how I learned assembly when I was a kid; I just dug to it through all the crap it was soldered to.

Comment: Car dealerships are a blight on society (Score 0) 333

by MillionthMonkey (#48011131) Attached to: State of Iowa Tells Tesla To Cancel Its Scheduled Test Drives
Car dealerships have outlasted their usefulness- they're a 20th century solution for selling 20th century cars. If a Tesla can self-drive itself to my house, or if an Amazon quadcopter can drop it off here, car dealerships have no reason to be involved except for an old law that allows them to stifle competition and that will now be cemented into place.

Comment: Re:Fracking (Score 1) 51

The methane itself is relatively harmless- but usually indicates the 999 other chemicals in fracking fluid are there too, and when the methane catches fire it creates even more toxins. If the kit can detect 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol without igniting it, it's a better option.

Comment: BASIC vs. Z80 assembly language (Score 4, Interesting) 165

by MillionthMonkey (#48010473) Attached to: Why the Z-80's Data Pins Are Scrambled

Back in 1980 my parents got me a British ZX81 kit to assemble, with 1024 bytes of RAM. (I still have it buried in the closet along with my other antiques- AFAIK it still works.) It ran BASIC so slowly that you could actually read the code about as fast as it executed, so I was "forced" to learn assembly language. I was amazed by how fast it was- it ran a million operations in just a few seconds! (wow.) You had to start by writing a BASIC program:

20 PRINT USR(16514)

Then you had to POKE each assembly instruction into the comment, starting at 16514 for the first "A". The comment line would slowly turn into "10 REM x&$bL;,$_)[vU7z#AAAAAAAA". The next line was 20 PRINT USR(16514) (printing out the return value from the BC register).

Saving any ZX81 program onto a cassette tape was excruciating- they recorded as several minutes of loud high-pitched screeching. Usually you needed to save them twice because it failed half the time. Then to load the program you had to cue the tape you had to find exactly where the start of the screeching was, rewind several seconds, play the tape, and only then could you hit enter on LOAD. (Otherwise LOAD got confused by the *click* noise when you pushed the play button on the tape player.)

You young people don't realize what an easy life you have.

Comment: Headline: "Force of nature gave life its asymmetry (Score 4, Interesting) 120

by radtea (#48001665) Attached to: Physicists Find Clue as To Why the DNA Double Helix Twists To the Right


The interaction of left-handed electrons with organic molecules is not the only potential explanation for the chiral asymmetry of life.. Meierhenrich favours an alternative â" the circularly polarized light that is produced by the scattering of light in the atmosphere and in neutron stars3. In 2011, Meierhenrich and colleages showed4 that such light could transfer its handedness to amino acids.

But even demonstrating how a common physical phenomenon would have favoured left-handed amino acids over right-handed ones would not tell us that this was how life evolved, adds Laurence Barron, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, UK. âoeThere are no clinchers. We may never know.â

The new work is interesting and important, but its primary significance is that it makes future work distinguishing the possible alternatives more challenging. It's also interesting because unlike the other two proposed mechanisms it is a result of the fundamental asymmetry in the weak force rather than an accidental boundary condition, so it implies that life everywhere is more likely than not to be right-handed, whereas the explanations involving magnetic fields will make a universe that's 50/50 right/left.

Comment: Re:"could be worse than Heartbleed" (Score 2) 316

by radtea (#47997499) Attached to: Flurry of Scans Hint That Bash Vulnerability Could Already Be In the Wild

The NIST page indicates that DHCP could be used to exploit it.

Any program that a) listens on a socket and b) calls out to a shell with an argument partially constructed from user input is vulnerable if the shell is unpatched bash. Apparently DHCP does this:

The only saving grace in this bug is that it's relatively easy to patch on client and server machines.

But there are a lot of things that aren't client and server machines that run linux and use bash. Routers, cable modems... all kinds of embedded systems. These things generally lag behind everything else. Firewalls will no-doubt be getting upgraded as we speak, but routers? Ultrasound machines in hospitals?

There is a lot of hard-to-patch hardware out there, and while I'm sure manufacturers are working on getting fixes out, it's going to be a long, hard, expensive process to ensure they're implemented.

We're incredibly fortunate that this bug is pretty easily fixable, but there may well be additional lurking issues, and there is always the chance we are going to find something that can't be easily fixed without breaking existing bash functionality. The probability of that is low, but the consequences would be enormously bad.

We've all heard the saying, "If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization." This has given us a glimpse of what a woodpecker might look like.

Comment: Give Bill Gates some credit (as if it matters) (Score 3, Informative) 363

by MillionthMonkey (#47996025) Attached to: Microsoft On US Immigration: It's Our Way Or the Canadian Highway

I'll leave aside the fact that most of these "charities" are tax-avoidance scams, and would probably do the world a favor by not existing.

Bill Gates gives about 40 times as much money to charities as do the Koch brothers, who together have about the same amount of money as Gates. The Koch brothers, in turn, are about 25X as generous as all the Walmart heirs combined- 85% of whose donations come from Christy and 15% from Alice. Jim and Rob also each have their $35 billion and together they donate approx. $30,000 to charity each year- i.e. 4 ppm of their total income. If I make six figures and I toss a dollar at a homeless person, I've just donated 10 ppm.

In comparison, the LDS church for example receives approx. ten billion dollars in "donations" (i.e. tithes) per year- ostensibly for charitable purposes- but spends only fifty million for charity, an overhead of approx. 99.5%. The Gates Foundation has an "overhead" of 90% (meaning 90% of his wealth is stuffed in his mattress). Charities would benefit 20X more if Mormons sent their tithe payments directly to scum-of-the-earth Bill Gates!!!!

Comment: Re:We care why? (Score 5, Insightful) 50

by radtea (#47990321) Attached to: Water Discovered In Exoplanet Atmosphere

One would assume that it's a safe bet it's common in most other systems as well...

I guess if one was ignorant of the past 300 years of science one might do that. Otherwise, it would be too obviously stupid, as it would require believing something trivially and completely false: that what we assume is particularly likely to be true.

Why not just assume the sun moves around the Earth? It's obvious, isn't it?

In the present case, there is a whole bunch of stuff to be interested in.

1) There is always the possibility that the chemical environment or formation process of the Earth or solar system was anomalous in some way. For example, it has us in it, and as near as we can tell intelligence of the specifically human, universally representational, machine-building kind is fairly rare (there is no evidence for it elsewhere.) So given that, it is not implausible that there are other weird things about our solar system, and we should likely be cautious about assuming that other planetary systems are much like ours. The astonishing discovery of hot Jupiters, for example, is an instance where we were looking for something that we were almost certain didn't exist (simply because it was the only place our current instruments were sensitive) and found something, quite unexpectedly.

2) Even given that water is common (which we don't know until we've measured it) there is the possibility that it is almost always sequestered in dense, cloudy atmospheres, or in icy outer planets, or cometary halos, etc.

3) Even given that clear atmospheres exist (which we didn't know until these guys measured it) we don't know what their typical composition is (and we still don't, based on a population of one.)

4) Even given that clear atmospheres have water (which we now know) we are most interested in finding Earth-like planets, which means a clear atmosphere with water and oxygen (which is a key signature for life as we know it). Testing out various detection ideas and proving they work is a huge step forward even if the first planet they found has a hydrogen atmosphere.

So there, just off the top of my head, are a few reasons. Assumptions don't produce knowledge, which is why we shouldn't give them much credence. Observations do produce knowledge, which is why we should be excited about a new mode of observation finally bearing fruit.

Comment: Re:Clouds (Score 2, Informative) 50

by radtea (#47990279) Attached to: Water Discovered In Exoplanet Atmosphere

Assuming the cloud is water droplets and not methane or whatever.)

Clouds or other forms of haze can be made of all kinds of things, and we observe this in our solar system, so there is no reason to assume clouds or haze in exoplanet atmospheres are water vapour.

Remember, all we know is we can't get decent absorption spectra from them, so assuming anything about them would be saying, "We can't see anything, so we know it's water."

That's like saying, "I know that's a Muslim woman because they are completely covered and I can't see their face" (there have been many cases of men, mostly criminals and not always Muslim, wearing similar clothing because people seemed tuned up to make precisely this error of "I can't see it, so what I can't see must be X".)

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson