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Comment: Trekkies (Score 1) 698

by Roger W Moore (#49481073) Attached to: 'We the People' Petition To Revoke Scientology's Tax Exempt Status

Honestly, Scientology is a religion founded by a science fiction writer who famously said "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion."

Isn't this the crux of the debate though: is scientology a religion or just bad science fiction? Indeed perhaps this is a good way to look at it. If scientology is classed as a religion then why not Trekkies or Star Wars fans? There is just as much "religious" fervour in those groups, if not more, and the science fiction is better written.

Comment: Need a cure not a symptom reliever (Score 1) 495

Properly done, affirmative action simply means getting more of the unrepresented group to apply.

The problem with this approach is that you are making a potentially unwarranted assumption and, even if that assumption is valid this is the wrong way to fix the problem. You assumption is that fewer of one group apply because they are actively discriminated against. This survey challenges the perceived notion that the reason that there are fewer women in science is due to discrimination and suggests that it might actually be reversed. If the reason that one group is under represented is because that group is not interested then there is not a problem. We do not see ballet schools targeting boys because they are underrepresented because its clear that fewer boys are interested in ballet.

The second problem is that affirmative action reinforces the very prejudice that it is designed to address. By lowering standards for one group over another those that get the positions will, on average, be weaker than most. These people will then be used by some to justify their prejudice. In addition the very fact that affirmative action means being prejudiced can be pointed to as an example of why such a prejudice is "ok".

Affirmative action is nothing more than an attempt at a quick fix to the symptoms of a problem which can only be properly cured through education. It's like taking an aspirin and hoping it will cure something like TB: it might bring temporary quick relief from the symptoms but the underlying disease is just masked and still needs to be cured by antibiotics...and in the meantime the person with TB feels fine and spreads the disease to others.

Comment: Re:What a wonderful unit! (Score 1) 332

by Roger W Moore (#49457853) Attached to: California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water

The rest of the civilized world use litres (L)

Actually that vast majority of the world uses litres (l). Only the US (on the rare occasions it uses them), Canada and Australia typically use the capital 'L' for the abbreviated symbol. While both are now accepted abbreviations the original rule was that only SI units named after a person had a capital letter for an abbreviation although in the case of 'l' there is easy confusion with '1' in some fonts which is why some countries adopted the capital letter.

Comment: Gardening not Showering (Score 2) 332

by Roger W Moore (#49457819) Attached to: California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water
I don't think that showers are the problem. Try the insistence on a bright green lawn surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers. Growing that in the middle of what is effectively a desert takes a lot more water than one shower a day.

If the average family in Canada tried to grow tropical plants in their gardens using heat lamps in the winter to stop them from dying we would soon be having a major electricity crisis (well at least until the global warming from burning all that coal kicked in). If the average family in California expects to have a lush, green garden then you should expect to have a water crisis.

Comment: Real Experiment (Score 2) 32

by Roger W Moore (#49455501) Attached to: Stars Form Near Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole

imagine a life and civilization evolving, looking out at their immediate galactic neighborhood, becoming aware that this weird night sky shape that their ancient ancestors worshiped is a supermassive black hole... and then growing an awareness of what that means for their future

Imagine a life and civilization evolving, looking out at their immediate galactic neighbourhood, becoming aware that this glowing ball of light that their ancient ancestors worshiped is a star... and then growing an awareness of what that means for their future in a couple of billion years when it has heated up enough to terminate all life on their planet.

We don't need to do a thought experiment because we are in almost exactly the same predicament. It might be a couple of billion years rather than a few tens of millions but frankly it doesn't matter either way: on those timescales either we develop the technology to solve the problem or we go extinct. Besides I'd expect any planet close enough to the accretion disk to see it as a disk with the naked eye will be getting fried by the high energy x-rays it emits which is how we detect black holes from half way across the galaxy or even further.

Comment: National Security (Score 1) 229

If they're banned from certain US technology and for purpose, then any route around that through any 3rd party would be illegal.

I doubt it would be illegal in China since the Chinese government makes the laws there. Besides governments are known to break even their own laws when it comes to anything they deem to be national security...unless torture is now legal in the US?

Comment: Re:Jamming not Hacking (Score 1) 460

by Roger W Moore (#49434217) Attached to: Planes Without Pilots

Listen, there are smart people in these fields.

Indeed there are smart people but that does not mean that they always get the right answer. In my own field of particle physics there was an experiment a few years ago that persuaded itself that they had evidence of faster than light neutrinos. Everyone outside that experiment, without the expert knowledge of the detector which this group had, decided that this had to be due to a mistake and sure enough it turned out that they did not have a GPS cable plugged in correctly.

Moral of the story: being smart does not make you immune from coming up with stupid ideas. It is never wrong to question new ideas which appear to have flaws. If there is a good reason why such criticisms are wrong the experts should be able to explain why.

...few jetliners crash due to mechanical or a computer system error.

True but isn't that precisely because they have a pilot on board? How many times is there a mechanical glitch or system failure which leads to no serious problem at all because the pilots takeover and do things manually? How many times is there a situation where the pilots can do something creative to save the plane like landing on the Hudson river?

Comment: Re:Jamming not Hacking (Score 1) 460

by Roger W Moore (#49423133) Attached to: Planes Without Pilots

Right, as if autoland doesn't exist?

...and does autonomous traffic avoidance in the crowded skies on approach to a busy airport? There are planes in holding patterns, on approach to land, transitioning between the too, taking off etc. etc. Even with fantastically well trained, intelligent human pilots onboard we need central coordination to avoid disaster otherwise why would we have air traffic control? How much more likely would disaster be if all those planes suddenly found themselves without a pilot?

Comment: Jamming not Hacking (Score 5, Interesting) 460

by Roger W Moore (#49421761) Attached to: Planes Without Pilots

someone WILL hack into it.

It's worse than that - all they need to do is jam it which would be trivially easy to do. For example if you put powerful transmitters into a van, parked it somewhere on the approach path to a busy airport and turned it on you would suddenly have craft who were on approach lose all control and by the time authorities tracked down the van and shut it off who knows how many planes would have crashed.

Remote control planes with passengers on are a stupendously bad idea. There is no way I'm flying on a plane which is not under the control of someone onboard whose life also depends on the plane landing safely. Even with such a strong motivation as that we have seen disaster happen - how much more likely will it be if the pilots are sitting remotely and have even less at stake? Suddenly things like disgruntled employees crashing planes becomes imaginable.

Comment: Re:April Fool? (Score 1) 289

Interesting. My take on the problems with the US system of government (as a non-US citizen who lived there for a few years) is slightly different. When it was setup the US government seemed to be an incredibly well designed system: it could cope with the poor communications and for the first time in a modern democracy power really did rest in the hands of the people and not the aristocracy and those commoners of whom they approved.

The problem as I see it is that the US governmental system is far, far too rigid and impossible to change to adapt to modern realities e.g. there is no need for a college of electors with modern communications, you no longer need a well regulated militia to defend against invasion etc. However updating archaic rules like that requires so much support from everywhere that it is all but impossible and things like the constitution are used by large corporations with armies of lawyers to overturn laws which they don't like. The result is a government which is frustrated in its ability to do what it thinks is needed and a people who are frustrated by their government's inability to do what is needed.

I think this is one of the perils of being first: they did not know that the system would work so they put lots of safeguards and protections into the system to stop mob rule which make the system too inflexible. Once we knew that the will of the people tended to be more tempered and did not result in chaotic mob rule governing systems, such as those in Europe, which were flexible enough to change could bring onboard the parts of the US system which work without importing the inflexibility. Not that they are without their own flaws but, when those flaws get large enough, there is the potential for self reform which the US, in practical terms, lacks.

Comment: Aluminium is Flamable (Score 1) 142

by Roger W Moore (#49420041) Attached to: Stanford Develops Fast-Charging, Stable Aluminum Battery

You can light steel wool with a common cigarette lighter. We should definitely stop making firetrucks out of steel.

Aluminium is actually far more flammable than steel. This is why they stopped using it for the superstructure of warships and you will not see aluminium armour. Aluminium is highly reactive but what stops it burning is that it very rapidly forms an inert, oxide layer in air which, unlike iron that has rust, remains strongly attached to the metal. However under the right conditions you can overcome this and then aluminium burns which is clearly not the case for steel.

However I expect that it will be a lot safer in a battery than lithium because of the protective oxide layer...unless the battery technology circumvents the formation of this layer in someway to make the battery function.

Nothing happens.