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Comment: Re:AT&T customer uses $24,298.93 in services (Score 2) 214

This isn't an errant bill or anything. The person called long distance that much in two months.

Wow does that bring back memories. For those who weren't around in the dialup days, certain malware would change the default dialup number for your modem to a 900 number (where you're charged per minute, like phone sex services use), which would then redial to AOL or whatever number you were trying to connect to. So you wouldn't notice anything was amiss because you'd still connect to AOL like usual, but you'd be racking up phone charges at $3/min.

After the government cracked down on phone companies which provided the 900 numbers used this way, the problem mostly disappeared for U.S. numbers. The malware switched to making the modem dial the equivalent of a 900 number in a foreign country.

It sounds like he got hit by this type of malware.

This also brings up something I've always wondered about. The power companies I've worked with seem to bend over backwards to get you onto the plan which most benefits you. When the electricity consumption at my business changed dramatically, Edison sent a guy over to talk with us to figure out what caused the change, and how to adjust our equipment and power plan to minimize our cost. Why does the power company do this, while the phone company seems content to leave you on a plan where you're paying more for worse service? I type Woodland Hills, CA DSL into Google, and it says that 6 Mbps AT&T U-verse/DSL is available there for just $34.95/mo.

Comment: Re: hmm (Score 2) 123

by Solandri (#49598947) Attached to: Judge Tosses United Airlines Lawsuit Over 'Hidden City' Tickets
Yeah, it's nonsensical because they're assuming the higher price to Chicago is correct, and you're doing something "wrong" by paying less. It's actually the higher price to Chicago which is wrong.

The root of the problem lies in lack of competition. Chicago is a United hub. So they control a plurality if not a majority of the flights to and from Chicago. That gives them quasi-monopoly powers when it comes to pricing. They've bought landing/takeoff rights for all those flights and control most of the gates. So even if a competitor underprices United, they can't increase their capacity to handle the extra tickets they'd sell. Their lower price just means they sell out their seats quicker, rather than sell more seats. Faced with selling x tickets for the same price as United, or only a few more than x tickets for a lot cheaper than United, most competitors just match United's pricing.

Consequently the price of flights to/from Chicago are higher than the market would dictate with adequate competition. And you get the perverse situation where a flight form L.A. to Chicago is more expensive than L.A. to N.Y. even though the latter flight stops in Chicago. In other words, you're not saving money by using this trick to fly to Chicago. You're just not paying the extra money United would've made because of their quais-monopoly control of Chicago. (They're still making more money than they should because you're still paying for the Chicago to N.Y. leg.)

Skiplagged.com exploits a leak in the airline's quasi-monopoly control of fares at their hub airports. The airlines can't plug that leak logistically (since their connection flights have to go through their hubs), so they're trying to get the courts to plug it for them.

Comment: Re:Can't wait to get this installed in my house (Score 1) 499

by Solandri (#49593035) Attached to: Tesla Announces Home Battery System
There's charging and discharging efficiencies to factor in too. You don't get as much energy out as you put into the battery - some of it gets converted to heat. Typically it's around 70%-80% (which would make the 5.5 years you calculated about 6-6.5 years), but it depends a lot on the battery tech, voltage, and charge rate. Better to wait and see what the real specs are.

On the flip side, if it works as advertised, expect to see utility subsidies for these. Time-shifting load from peak to off-peak means they can increase daily capacity without having to build new generation plants. So often it's more cost-effective for them to subsidize technologies like this rather than fund construction of a new plant.

Comment: Re:A glimpse into our future (Score 1) 67

by Solandri (#49588555) Attached to: Apple, IBM To Bring iPads To 5 Million Elderly Japanese

there's a need for things like this so family who lives far away can still make sure parents are OK.

Actually, in Asia, elderly parents usually live with their kids. That something like this is needed is more a sign of the rising number of dual income households where the elderly parents are left home alone during the day.

California (which has a high Asian immigrant population who didn't budget for nursing home expenses) tried to tackle this with Adult Day Health Care - basically day care for the elderly. Your parents live at home, you drop them off at the ADHC during the day while you and your spouse work, and you pick them up when you get off work. But the program got sharply curtailed during the recent budget cuts.

Comment: Re:Show me the math on the Tesla. (Score 1) 278

by Solandri (#49588479) Attached to: New Study Suggests Flying Is Greener Than Driving

Show me the math for both ICE cars and Tesla, from well-head to road. Because generating electricity takes energy, and there are losses in the distribution system, and the charging systems are not 100% efficient either.

Sorry for the repost. This is probably a better place for this.

The 1100 BTU/mi figure is consistent with the efficiency of a ICE vehicle from crankshaft to wheels. It takes about 20-25 hp to push a ICE vehicle at 60 mph. So in an hour it will burn 53.7-67.1 MJ. Since it travels 60 miles in that hour, that works out to 0.89-1.12 MJ/mile. Or 848-1060 BTU/mile at highway speeds.

If you factor in other losses for the Tesla, add in a 40% efficient coal plant generating the electricity, 97% transmission efficiency over high-power electrical lines, and 75% charging efficiency and the Tesla actually uses 1100 / (.4*.97*.75) = 3780 BTU per vehicle mile. So it's actually not much different from an ICE from an energy consumption standpoint. (There are discharge losses too, but since the 1100 BTU/mi figure was apparently derived from a 85 kWh battery and 265 mile range, the discharge losses are already included.)

The vast majority of the reason an EV is cheaper to operate is because coal is so much cheaper than gasoline. Coal costs about $50 per ton. A ton of coal has approximately 24 GJ of energy. That's about 0.21 cents/MJ. Gasoline costs about $3/gallon, and has about 120 MJ/gallon, or 2.5 cents/MJ. For the same amount of energy, coal is an order of magnitude cheaper than gasoline, which gives the EV a huge advantage in terms of operating costs. This is not a bad thing - being able to transfer a cheaper but traditionally static energy source into use in a mobile application is an economic win. But don't confuse it for better efficiency.

Yes you could argue that we can make electricity from renewables. But the vast majority of the cost of renewables is in the initial production of the turbine or PV panels. Operating costs are nearly nil (limited to maintenance). So for a fair comparison you then need to incorporate production and transport costs. At which point renewables lose because on a per Joule delivered basis, even with coal plants being only 40% efficient, coal is still cheaper than wind and solar power. (Wind is only about twice the cost of coal, so cheaper than gasoline, but I suspect solar would be about the same cost as gasoline.) You need to incorporate cost of harm done by pollution for renewables to pull ahead. (And even then, only hydro, wind, and geothermal. PV solar still has a ways to go.)

Comment: Re:This is stupid (Score 1) 278

by Solandri (#49588343) Attached to: New Study Suggests Flying Is Greener Than Driving

Either compare flying a small plane to driving a car, or compare a huge bus to a plane.

No, you want to compare likely transportation alternatives. If you're going to go on vacation, a likely decision you'll face is whether to pay for airline tickets and fly, or pay for fuel (and possible rental) and drive. That makes the plane vs. car comparison completely valid. Same reason a car vs. bus comparison is valid for intra-city travel, even though you've defined them as being nothing like each other. In fact the bus vs. plane comparison is probably the least valid, since the vast majority of buses are used for intra-city mass transport, while the vast majority of planes are used for long-haul inter-city transport. So it's very rare (at least in a large country like the U.S.) for you to have to decide between taking the bus or taking the plane.

Incidentally, I'm not sure why this is news. These types of comparisons have been done before. Trains win. Then planes, then cars, then buses, then way at the bottom are taxis (which is why "services" like Uber are a bad idea - you want to minimize the number of taxis driving around).

Buses are rather interesting in that you'd think they'd score better than cars. But the fundamental problem you come across with mass transit buses is capacity vs convenience. You want to load each bus with as many people as possible to decrease its fuel consumption per passenger mile. But you also want to run the buses frequently so people aren't stuck waiting 45 minutes at a bus stop and instead decide to bum a ride from a friend or (worse yet) hail a cab. These conflicting demands mean you run the buses a lot more than would be ideal from an energy efficiency standpoint. Air travel avoids this problem by forcing people to adapt to the airline's schedule (other than a few shuttle services between well-traveled routes, and even those have mostly ceased service).

Comment: No it doesn't more efficient (Score 1) 278

by Solandri (#49588161) Attached to: New Study Suggests Flying Is Greener Than Driving

One factoid is interesting: it takes 4,211 BTUs per person mile to drive. This number will fall as we switch over to electric vehicles. For example, a Tesla Model S takes about 1,100 BTUs per vehicle mile.

No it doesn't. 1100 BTU (0.322 kWh) is the energy consumption from the battery to the wheels. You need to include the entire energy generation chain to get a fair comparison. Add in a 40% efficient coal plant generating the electricity, 97% transmission efficiency over high-power electrical lines, and 75% charging efficiency and the Tesla actually uses 1100 / (.4*.97*.75) = 3780 BTU per vehicle mile.

The vast majority of the reason an EV is cheaper to operate is because coal is so much cheaper than gasoline. Coal costs about $50 per ton. A ton of coal has approximately 24 GJ of energy. That's about 0.21 cents/MJ. Gasoline costs about $3/gallon, and has about 120 MJ/gallon, or 2.5 cents/MJ. For the same amount of energy, coal is an order of magnitude cheaper than gasoline, which gives the EV a huge advantage in terms of operating costs. This is not a bad thing - being able to transfer a cheaper but traditionally static energy source into use in a mobile application is an economic win. But don't confuse it for better efficiency.

Yes you could argue that we can make electricity from renewables. But the vast majority of the cost of renewables is in the initial production of the turbine or PV panels. Operating costs are nearly nil (limited to maintenance). So for a fair comparison you then need to incorporate production and transport costs. At which point renewables lose because on a per Joule delivered basis, even with coal plants being only 40% efficient, coal is still cheaper than wind and solar power. (Wind is only about twice the cost of coal, so cheaper than gasoline, but I suspect solar would be about the same cost as gasoline.)

Comment: Re:"Had to" (Score 4, Insightful) 123

by Solandri (#49578497) Attached to: Crowdfunded Android Console Ouya Reportedly Seeking Buyout

There are some kick starters that deliver nothing to anyone and no refunds...

If you need money to survive, you do not "have to" send money back to backers, especially not if the only problem is that you were late (I expect at least a year delay on Kickstarter hardware by default).

The problem is that that Kickstarter is really nothing more than distributed venture capital. Except that normal venture capital gives you a share of the company or future profits. That two-way exchange makes it clear what you are getting for your money - part ownership of the company. As a part-owner/investor, you're fully aware of the risk that comes with it - you know you could lose all your money and have nothing to show for it if the company should fail.

You don't get that with Kickstarter. All you get is a promise for a future product. Consequently, the "investors" see themselves (accurately) as customers. And with that perception comes certain expectations, like wanting to get your money back if the product is not delivered or not delivered on time.

Kickstarter opened up the crowd-funding market but I think this is what's going to trip them up - discontent among users about failed projects. The eventual winner in the crowd-funding market is going to be a company which recognizes that this is nothing more than distributed venture capital, and treats it as such by letting "investors" buy "shares" of the companies seeking funding thus making it obvious that they are also buying all the risk that comes with that. And if the company promises to deliver sample products to shareholders, that's all it is - a promise. Not a contractual obligation.

Comment: Re:It is an ad. (Score 1) 216

by Solandri (#49578275) Attached to: How Google Searches Are Promoting Genocide Denial

All that's required to get your ad up on the internet is for you to put down the money. Nobody reviews the ad to see if it's for a legitimate product. Nobody checks that false claims aren't being made.

I don't see the problem. It's an ad. It's obvious it's an ad. When I see an ad claiming something, my first thought is, "someone had to pay money to show this to me." If it's for a product, I can understand why you'd want to do that. If it's making a claim with no way for them to financially recoup the money they spent on the ad, that immediately destroys any credibility they have.

And just because you're on Google (or the Internet) doesn't free you from having to think. YOU are supposed to review ads to see if they're a legitimate product before buying, check claims before believing they're true.

Comment: Re:Has to be worse? (Score 2) 82

by Solandri (#49572405) Attached to: ATT, DirecTV Mega-Merger May Go Through
More to the point, some time back in the 1980s or 1990s, the cable companies and municipalities were sued over the government-granted monopolies they were getting for subscription TV service. They eventually prevailed in court with the argument that satellite TV companies like DirecTV and Dish provided sufficient competition that they weren't really a monopoly. i.e. Even if a city gave Comcast a local cable TV monopoly, anyone in the area could subscribe to DirecTV instead, so it wasn't really a TV service monopoly. This is why Comcast, TW, Verizon, AT&T, etc. are currently allowed to be given service monopolies by the local government.

I really don't see how this merger can be approved. Either they'll have to risk giving up their local cable monopolies (which they'll never do willingly), or they're gonna have to prove Dish alone is a viable competitor. This is further complicated now that Internet service is a major component of their offerings. Satellite TV companies which offer Internet service typically use satellite for the downlink but DSL for the uplink. Which was OK when the DSL, cable, and satellite companies were all different. But with Verizon and AT&T effectively turning DSL and cable companies into the same thing, for Dish to provide Internet service they'd have to contract with AT&T, who is their competitor for TV service.

Comment: Re:well then it's a bad contract (Score 4, Insightful) 329

by Solandri (#49563901) Attached to: ESPN Sues Verizon To Stop New Sports-Free TV Bundles

It's a horrible contract if it purports to require that consumers pay ESPN even if they don't want it. In fact, that's arguably illegal.
[...]
Sorry, but ESPN has no legal standing to force the consumers of Verizon to essentially have a package which kicks back to ESPN.

You've got this backwards. The consumer has no standing because they never contracted with ESPN. The contract is between ESPN and Verizon. Customers are never paying ESPN. Verizon is paying ESPN. Customers are paying Verizon, but that doesn't give them standing on a contract between ESPN and Verizon. Just like if you bought something from Walmart, that doesn't give you standing to modify Walmart's wages to their employees.

Legally, the proper solution is for Verizon to charge all customers enough so that they can fulfill their contractual obligation to ESPN. If their contract says they need to pay ESPN $10/mo per customer (regardless of whether they view ESPN), then Verizon just needs to pay that and they've satisfied the terms of their contract with ESPN.

If Verizon wants to then turn around and charge ESPN-viewing customers $20/mo to cover their shortfall (assuming half their customers don't want ESPN), then that is between Verizon and their customer, and ESPN has no standing. In fact that's probably what Verizon is going for here - they're trying to collect real data on exactly what percentage of their customers are willing to pay for ESPN and how much, so they can use those figures for negotiations with ESPN.

That should get you a RICO conviction. Because if someone says "oh, sorry, but we have a contract with my cousin Vinnie, and you have to pay him every time you buy something from us".

Totally different. Verizon isn't telling you to send a check to ESPN. They're offering you a price for your cable package, and you're agreeing to pay that price. If Verizon decides to use some of the money they received from you to pay ESPN or Vinnie or for hookers and blow, you have no standing. You got the cable package you wanted at a price you agreed to pay.

Comment: Re:I'd settle for appropriate brightness (Score 1) 125

by Solandri (#49563751) Attached to: Smart Headlights Adjust To Aid Drivers In Difficult Conditions

Those stupidly overbright headlamps that dazzle you could be replaced by ones that dim themselves when they see oncoming traffic.

Wouldn't this do that automatically? The mechanism shouldn't be able to distinguish between light being reflected off a snowflake, and light coming from another car. And will dim its headlight aimed at that location in both cases.

Comment: Re:Do not want (Score 1) 125

by Solandri (#49563729) Attached to: Smart Headlights Adjust To Aid Drivers In Difficult Conditions
What makes you think it'll be that expensive? A DLP projector does basically the same thing, and the DLP chip itself can be bought for a few bucks. All you need is a to pair it with a high-speed camera which picks out bright spots and immediately directs that individual DLP mirror away from that location.

I'm sure it'll be super-expensive when it first rolls out. But if the base technologies they're using are easily mass producible, it should get cheap quickly. The first flat screen TV hit the mass market just 17 years ago for over $20,000. You can now pick up a similar-sized one for about $400.

Comment: Re:You're not willing to pay (Score 1) 283

1) Huge landowning farmers are rich. On top of being rich, they get a lot of subsidies. They get the subsidies because, being rich, they can bribe politicians. This makes them richer, and more able to bribe. The EU is something I support entirely in principle, because trade is better than war, but in few areas has become more corrupt than subsidising landowners;

While I agree with the rest of what you say, farm subsidies are not entirely the result of corruption. They're a way for governments to tweak the supply/demand curve, so that there is a greater supply of food (farms) than demand. Farming is not like manufacturing, where you get an order 10,000 widgets so you manufacture 10,000 widgets. You plant enough crops to feed 10 million people, but if it turns out to be a bad year with crop failures and your yield is only enough for 9 million, well now you've got to decide between letting part of your population starve or putting everyone on rationing.

This can be avoided ahead of time if you subsidize farms to the point where they plant enough crops to feed 11 million. If it turns out to be a normal year and you have enough excess food for 1 million, that's preferable to being short food for 1 million. Turn it into feed for cattle (people won't complain about cheaper steaks), high fructose corn syrup, ethanol (which actually makes sense when done with excess corn instead of corn grown for the explicit purpose of turning into ethanol), and foreign aid. (Incidentally, this is why the U.S. pays some farmers not to grow any crops - if we suffer another Dust Bowl-like disaster, we'll have plenty of reserve farmland to fall back on the following year, but without upsetting food prices if there is no disaster this year.)

Comment: Re:With the best will in the world... (Score 4, Interesting) 480

Even when you start with petroleum as your feedstock and only waste 10-15% of the energy it contains in refining and distribution, you've still got the car only turning 20% of the energy therein into useful kinetic energy (25% in the case of diesels), versus an average of about 85% of the electricty into kinetic energy (minus about 8% transmission losses), plus automatically gaining hybrid-style regen. Even if the process was 100% efficient - which it won't be anywhere even close to that - just the difference in propulsion technolgies would put the EV at 4 times the efficiency.

Slow down there. You're comparing the complete-cycle efficiency for petroleum to just the end-stage efficiency for electric. That electricity needs to be made somehow. Toss in 40% efficiency for coal plants (we'll leave out pumping/mining and fuel transport costs for now, assuming they're similar for oil and coal), battery charging efficiency of about 75% (discharge efficiency is unspecified, but since the EPA mileage estimates are based on battery capacity it's safe to ignore it), and the 85% motor efficiency you've specified, and suddenly your EV is .4*.75*.85 = 25.5% efficient. Same as a diesel.

This is the big thing a lot of EV proponents miss. Their EV is cheaper to operate not because the EV is more energy-efficient, but because coal is so much cheaper than gasoline. Coal costs about $50 per ton. A ton of coal has approximately 24 GJ of energy. That's about 0.21 cents/MJ. Gasoline costs about $3/gallon, and has about 120 MJ/gallon, or 2.5 cents/MJ. For the same amount of energy, coal is an order of magnitude cheaper than gasoline, which gives the EV a huge advantage in terms of operating costs. This is not a bad thing - being able to transfer a cheaper but traditionally static energy source into use in a mobile application is an economic win. But don't confuse it for better efficiency.

Yes you could argue that we can make electricity from renewables. But the vast majority of the cost of renewables is in the initial production of the turbine or PV panels. Operating costs are nearly nil (limited to maintenance). So for a fair comparison you then need to incorporate production and transport costs. At which point renewables lose because on a per Joule delivered basis, even with coal plants being only 40% efficient, coal is still cheaper than wind and solar power. (Wind is only about twice the costs of coal, so cheaper than gasoline, but I suspect solar would be about the same cost as gasoline.)

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.

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