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Comment: Re:How does one tell the difference? (Score 4, Insightful) 103

Well, the Anthropologists may know what they are doing but the guy taking photos of the tools certainly isn't helping matters. Why can't he take a picture of something that actually resemble a tool? Better yet, why the reporter can't explain briefly why this chunk of rock pictured can be considered a tool?

That's why you should read the original papers rather than secondary articles by reporters who may or may not know their subject. The article in the May 21 issue of Nature will probably be more informative.

Comment: Re:Tolls? (Score 4, Insightful) 822

by hey! (#49736133) Attached to: Oregon Testing Pay-Per-Mile Driving Fee To Replace Gas Tax

Well, with electronic toll-paying that could work, but it would still shift the burden from low MPG to high MPG cars.

The great thing about a gas tax is that it's a simple way to kill two birds with one stone: encouraging higher mileage and paying for infrastructure. The problem is that not everyone agrees that both birds are important. Two-birders think that high mileage vehicles should be discouraged because of externalized costs -- pollution mainly, but also space required in parking lots, greater risk to other road users etc. One-birders don't care about externalities but understand that the roads and bridges need to be repaired. Zero-birders are just idiots.

I'm a two-birder myself, so raising the gas tax is a no-brainer. I'd also issue everyone a flat rebate per driver, because in fact I'm a three-birder: I'm concerned about the effect of a regressive tax on the working poor who have no options but to drive to their jobs.

But I'm also a realist. There are a lot of one-birders out there and the roads need repair. It's also politically easier in one-birder territory to sell something as a fee rather than as a tax, even though from my perspective that's an irrelevant difference if you're raising the same revenue either way.

Comment: Re:I wonder how long... (Score 3, Insightful) 50

Well, they're already opting to have damaged natural joints like hips and knees replaced. That's a case of upgrading from natural to artificial to gain function. As the performance of artificial limbs increase, it might become an increasingly commonplace treatment for older people, just like knee or hip replacement.

If we project that trend forward for twenty or thirty years I wouldn't be surprised at all to see artificial legs that outperform natural legs for the purposes of walking or even running. But I don't think people with normal abilities will be trading in their limbs just to be able walk a little longer, run a little faster, or carry more weight. That won't happen until the replacement is subjectively indistinguishable from the real thing; until you can feel the grass under your toes.

I'm comfortable predicting locomotion parity in the next fifty years, but I wouldn't care to speculate on when we'll see sensory parity.

Comment: Once more into the breech, dear friends. (Score 3, Insightful) 100

by hey! (#49735075) Attached to: US Levels Espionage Charges Against 6 Chinese Nationals

I have no problem with going after people who steal trade secrets, anything more than I have a problem with going after people who steal nuclear secrets. The only thing is that the FBI has a long history of racist paranoia about Chinese scientists, from Quan Xuesen in the early 50s to Wen Ho Lee in the 90s.

Rhwew may well of a legitimate case against these guys and if they do I hope they nail the bastards. But I'm not jumping to any conclusions based on FBI say-so.

Comment: Re:beat that straw man, beat it hard (Score 1) 150

by hey! (#49735011) Attached to: Survey: 2/3 of Public Sector Workers Wouldn't Report a Security Breach

You're the one worried about passwords that can be broken in 25 years; that's a non-issue. The issue is security that works well enough for long enough and is workable for the users. Impressive sounding, inflated requirements means something else has to give: price, performance, or usability.

Comment: Re:Password updating (Score 1) 150

by hey! (#49734339) Attached to: Survey: 2/3 of Public Sector Workers Wouldn't Report a Security Breach

Well, once you've cracked the VPN traffic the password is almost a secondary concern, isn't it?

This is the wrong way to think about security, e.g. for a hypothetical world where users adhere to anything you demand of them no matter how intrusive or onerous that is. In reality if you decide that usability and convenience aren't factors in your planning then that's actually an oversight which will come back to bite you on the ass someday. The only thing you can say for that approach of wishing usability away is that when disaster comes you'll be able to point the finger of blame at the users -- even though their non-adherence is a predictable result of your poor understanding of system requirements.

Comment: Re:Bottom Rising (Score 1, Insightful) 228

by hey! (#49730113) Attached to: Marvel's Female Superheroes Are Gradually Becoming More Super

Originally Susan Richards' powers were turning invisible and creating a force shield around herself. This wasn't for doing cool things, it was for staying safely out of the way while the boys did the fighting. By the mid 70s when I was buying comic books her purely defensive powers were upgraded to being able to produce a shower of spherical force bubbles, which on the offensive force scale was about one step up the awesomeness scale from telekinetically throwing couch pillows.

I don't think the reason for this change was to throw a sop to feminists, or because fans were demanding strong female characters. In either case she'd have got a more impressive upgrade. I think it was simply upgraded storytelling. A character that can basically hide and shield herself is not as versatile as a character than can do useful things. So this kind of incremental upgrading naturally gave her more of a swiss-army knife skillset.

As for modern superheroines having multiple, I have not much to add, other than an observation. This multiple super-power thing kind of mirrors what we expect women to be like today. We expect them to be able to multitask, to juggle several very different roles on our teams. Versatility has become a cultural expectation for women, so it might not be coincidental that female superheroes get more of toolkit rather than one very big hammer.

Comment: Re:One Assumption (Score 1) 605

by hey! (#49728127) Attached to: The Demographic Future of America's Political Parties

A second assumption is that parties don't reinvent themselves. Of course they do; if they're to last they have to reinvent themselves every generation or two. Go back through the history of both parties since the 1850s; ideological continuity in both cases is a fiction that papers over a series of opportunistic shifts in focus.

An empty shell of a party in a two-party system is like the shell of an abandoned building in Manhattan; the real estate is too valuable to remain unoccupied. So some time in the next twenty years as its demographics becomes untenable the Republican party will radically shift focus, with some kind of face-saving formulation that presents the fiction of continuity, or even a return to longstanding principles. This is just like the post-Reagan rightward shift in the Democratic party as the DLC became dominant in national Democratic politics. The old style social democratic (using European terminology) FDR Democrats remained with the party because they had no place else to go in a two party system.

Likewise the rump of the current social conservative and Evangelical Republican party will be made a welcome but impotent minority in the new Republican party. They'll get occasional lip service at in-party functions but they won't be allowed near the mic lest they spout what sounds like grandpa's crazy talk -- pretty much like the FDR style Democrats were treated by their party in the 90s and 00s.

Comment: Re:I wonder why... (Score 1) 289

by hey! (#49722481) Attached to: North Carolina Still Wants To Block Municipal Broadband

Show me the part of the US Constitution that says the Feds can tell a State it can't regulate its political subdivisions.

Easy-peasy. I don't even have to google it. The Interstate Commerce Clause. All you have to do is find some pretext that says the regulation affects interstate commerce in some way and the feds can quash it.

In this case the issue to use is plain as a pikestaff. By preventing municipalities from providing high quality internet service the state is hinder access by out-of-state vendors to consumers in that community. That justification is WAAY stronger than other that have held up to scrutiny.

Comment: Re:cover everything with mirrors (Score 2) 185

by hey! (#49719377) Attached to: Navy's New Laser Weapon: Hype Or Reality?

Sure, but the laser beam itself is less than ideal too, as it its targeting. We're talking about hitting a moving target from another moving target with a less than perfect beam dispersed through whatever's in the atmosphere between them. Adding reflected waste energy to that equation and mirroring might not be perfect protection, but I'd bet it could make the attacker's job a lot tougher.

I have no doubt that at short range under laboratory conditions lasers can burn through any mirror conceived by the mind of man. In real world conditions I suspect it'd be a lot harder to get to work even without an intelligent enemy dreaming up countermeasures.

Comment: Re:Seriously? (Score 1) 121

by hey! (#49718143) Attached to: Learning About Constitutional Law With Star Wars

Sorry, I can't take seriously a paper on the development of constitutional law which starts with an analogy to Star Wars.

Why not? The point seems to be that a people's view of their constitution is a myth-making process. This idea is of course anathema to Americans, although clearly long-held interpretations of the US Constitution certainly color what we see as the "plain meaning" of the document.

But you can see see this consensus myth thing clearly over in Britain, which doesn't have a written constitution. That doesn't mean they don't have a constitution; it's in what nearly everyone agrees traditionally can or cannot be done. The Queen can't veto a law by withholding her assent, because it's just not done.

Comment: Re:Amtrak's existing signal system (Score 1) 393

by hey! (#49717935) Attached to: Feds Order Amtrak To Turn On System That Would've Prevented Crash

I'll bet it costs a bundle to make sure it works as well as it is politically necessary for it to work. It's a matter of marginal costs and benefits. Train travel is already extremely safe; adding safety measures to an already safe mode of travel is bound to be challenging.

Imagine a world where half the train engineers were stoned out of their mind,and train derailments were an everyday occurrence. It would be cheap to design and install a safety system that would be a huge success by cutting down derailments from a twice a day occurrence to a once-a-month thing. But we live in a world where passenger train derailments, though terrible, are exceedingly rare. They're not even a once-a-year occurrence. This is the first time in a very long time an Amtrak train has derailed for speed. In the past five years the vast majority of Amtrak accidents have been things on the tracks that shouldn't be there or freight trains colliding with Amtrak trains. The last accident a system like the one we're talking about would likely have prevented was in 2011, when an Amtrak train went through a red signal and collided with another Amtrak train.

In our hypothetical scenario if the new system caused one accident a year that'd be a non-concern because of the hundreds of crashes it prevented. But in real life if the system caused just one accident a year that'd represent a tripling of the accident rate ove no system.

You have to have confidence that an automatic system outperforms humans by an order of magnitude before it is accepted by the public, underwriters, investors etc. Otherwise self-driving cars would be a commonplace option already. They already work, probably better than drivers and certainly better than some.

If all else fails, lower your standards.