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Comment Re:I'll never understand why we privatize (Score 2) 140

Because cable companies (which became cable ISPs) weren't originally something you could call a public utility. When they started, nobody knew what was the best way to rig up houses, or allocate bandwidth. When they started offering Internet service, that increased the complexity because now each home needed to be able to transmit data back to the cable company. These were all complex problems with a plethora of possible solutions. The "myth of capitalist efficiency" is precisely what filtered out the bad solutions over three decades, leaving only the efficient ones.

If cable had been made a public utility from the onset, we'd probably still be stuck with analog broadcasts and a few dozen channels. Just like government-imposed GSM would've been stuck with approx 50 kbps data speeds if the U.S. hadn't allowed CDMA to compete against it. (Orthogonal multiplexing like CDMA and OFDMA are what allows the high speed data rates. With the original GSM TDMA spec, each phone would take up part of the data bandwidth even if it didn't use it. On the other hand, CDMA distributed bandwidth according to how much each phone was using. Eventually, nearly every GSM phone ended up using wideband CDMA for data. That's why they can talk and use data at the same time - they had a TDMA radio for voice, and a CDMA radio for data. CDMA phones only had one radio for both. That's right, CDMA won the GSM vs CDMA war.)

Once you've arrived at what seems to be the optimal solution, then you can think about turning it into a public utility. That's what happened with electricity - AC and DC networks were allowed to compete, until it became economically obvious that long distance AC transmission was better. Then it got turned into a public utility. But it'd be remiss to think you could get to where we are today without the private capitalism stage - it's what allowed us to find the optimal solution in the first place. (And in fact the current state of electricity as a public utility is impeding efforts to explore if long-distance DC transmission might in fact be better with the modern high-efficiency DC converters that weren't available during the original AC vs DC war.)

Comment Re:Toilet paper and timber? (Score 1) 224

It amazes me that people think they are saving a tree when they don't use paper. I highly doubt they have even seen what kind of trees paper is made from.

There was an insightful /. post years ago which pointed out that recycling paper may actually be bad. When you throw away paper in a landfill, you are sequestering carbon. The tree pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere, we turned it into paper, and threw it away in a landfill. Core samples into old landfills have turned up newspaper fragments a century old in still-readable condition. So that CO2 is being sequestered underground in a landfill. Exactly the opposite of what we're doing with oil (taking it out from the ground, burning it, and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. So throwing away paper and not recycling it may actually be the best thing for the environment (and by extension, chopping down trees to turn them into paper, as long as you plant new trees to replace the ones you chopped down).

Also of note, the abstract mentions that the number of trees has been too low in previous estimates. I wonder how this new estimate will change climate/CO2 modeling:

That would depend on the biomass of vegetation (not just trees). I haven't read TFA but it appears to only be counting trees. Have they revised their estimates about the amount of plant biomass? (To be precise, only the living plant biomass matters. The wood in the core of a tree is dead, and does not contribute to converting CO2 into cellulose.)

Comment Re:Before someone says it's a "youtuber" (Score 1) 142

It's not that it's "OK", it's just the norm for the industry. Even in the days when gaming reviews were printed on dead trees, it was a poorly-guarded secret that they were being paid by the game publishers to hype the big releases. There is no equivalent to the Hippocratic oath in the journalism industry, or Bar Association which will prohibit you from ever working in the field again if you do something egregiously wrong. And prohibiting payola doesn't eliminate the problem. Personal bias plays a huge role in story selection. Back in the early 2000s the national news was alight for weeks with a story about two WASPs who deliberately picked out a gay guy, tied him up, and dragged him behind a car until he was dead. At the same time, there was also an incident where two gay guys deliberately picked out a guy who was Christian, tied him to a fence, and beat him til he was dead, but that story got almost no coverage. They claim to be objective, and I sincerely believe most of them want to be objective. But really how objective can you be with a story you have strong personal feelings about?

You simply have to understand that this sort of stuff always goes on in journalism and probably always will. The need for journalistic freedom makes it a difficult industry to police. Take everything you read or hear from a publication with a grain of salt - like you do with the stories you see in the National Enquirer at the supermarket checkout line but not to that extent. It's why publications like Consumer Reports which follow self-imposed guidelines to improve objectivity (they accept no ads, and buy the products they test off the store shelves instead of using manufacturer-supplied samples) have a strong following.

Comment Re:Overkill (Score 1) 151

Most people probably haven't experienced total darkness. I experienced it while working late at a campsite (astronomy camp). I had to walk from the lab to my cabin on a moonless night with thick fog, no lights. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. You can't even tell if your eyes are open or closed. It was one of those epiphany moments where you're experiencing something completely new for the first time in your life. I remember thinking, wow, so this is what it's like to be blind. I had to find my way back to the cabin entirely by feel and my memory of the path.

Anyway, a mask or bag over your head isn't going to cut it. Even the photographic dark rooms I've been in always had a faint glimmer of light leaking in somewhere - a point of reference that told me which way I was facing. Fortunately the walk back to my cabin was downhill with grass on the edges of the path so I could tell I was sort of going in the right way. I don't think I would've made it if it had been completely flat and all grass.

Comment Re:Something about a bank funded study.... (Score 1) 247

Why not? The bank has lots of money to invest. It wants to know where the smartest place to invest it is. So it commissions a study to figure that out. Assuming they follow through with their investment, they're putting their money where their mouth is. Which is more than I can say for both sides of the climate debate (one side wants to control how other people's money is spent, the other side doesn't want to pay for damage caused by their own choices).

Comment Re:Short answer? (Score 3, Interesting) 179

Data Transmission: Shannonâ"Hartley theorem

It's worth noting that current trends in wifi technology are moving in a direction which overcomes Shannon's law. The theorem assumes a shared communications channel. That is, if you transmit your signal at -45 dB, then everyone else using that same channel sees -45 dB of noise (your signal is noise to them).

Beam-forming and MIMO (multipath) techniques subvert this assumption. For a visual analogy, it's why you can see your smartphone display in the sunlight, even though the sun is much, much brighter (its signal strength at optical wavelengths far exceeds your phone display's signal strength). Although the sun is very bright, the light it gives off is highly directional. By using sensors (the lens structure of your eyes) which can "tune in" to light coming from a narrow angle, you can basically filter out all that sunlight noise and pull out a clear signal from the smartphone display.

We're still a long way from this being able to beat out a direct fiber connection. But with phased array antennas (basically what MIMO does except using a lot more transceivers for much finer angular resolution) acting like a "lens" to "focus" radio waves, it's not outlandish to think that in the future all wireless communications could effectively be point-to-point with little to no interference from other wireless sources. Even though everyone is transmitting at the same frequencies, the highly directional nature of the transmissions would mean Shannon's law almost never comes into play, and you get to use all that bandwidth as if you were the only one transmitting on it.

Comment Re:Not really ... (Score 2) 42

Which is why I have give up on any app which has a corresponding web-page.

This is a really important point. The reason the web was so successful was because once you made a website, anyone with a computer could access it and anyone else's website using a single program. A common, unified method of interacting with multiple persons or organizations with minimum hassle. Prior to that was the telephone, which allowed you to call anyone using a single device. And prior to that was the invention of postal mail, which allowed you to write to anyone by dropping off your letters at a single location.

What's happening with every site out there trying to foist their own app onto your phone is a huge step backwards. It takes us back to the day when the only way for you to interact with a person or a organization was to physically travel to their unique location. We've spent centuries arriving at the optimal solution to the problem of contacting others to exchange information with a minimum of hassle. Now marketers want to undo several centuries of progress in the name of advertising and data collection. What's happening with apps right now is equivalent to each person in your contact list insisting that you keep a separate telephone just for calling them, and which can only call them, and oh by the way that phone will listen in on what you're doing and report it back to its master..

Don't fall for it. Unless the app includes some functionality which requires it to be an app (e.g. my banking app lets me deposit checks by securely taking a picture), insist on using the website. If the experience on your phone's browser sucks, that just means the website needs a better mobile site, or HTML needs to be extended to allow for a better mobile experience (theoretically the browser could be allowed access to your camera to let my bank's website take a picture allowing me to deposit checks). And if a site is so obnoxious as to block mobile browsers and insist you download their app, stop giving them your business and find an alternate.

Comment Erm... (Score 3, Insightful) 130

The 130-page report (PDF) shows that Li-on batteries will drop from $550 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2014 to $200 per kWh by 2020

The going rate for residential electricity in the U.S. is about $0.11/kWh. So basically if these batteries charge/discharge once per day (as the case would be for solar), and you want the batteries to only add (say) 20% to the price of the generated electricity in order for it to remain cost-competitive (note: wind is nearly cost-competitive, solar is still about 2x-3x more expensive), then it currently takes $550 per kWh / ($0.11 per kWh * 20% * 365 cycles/yr) = 68.5 years for these batteries to pay for themselves, but by 2020 it will take 27.4 years. Yay progress?

Unless the levelized price for renewable generation drops substantially below that of coal, I don't see how this will "spur renewable energy adoption" except for regions where electricity prices are substantially higher (e.g. Hawaii, $0.30/kWh)

Comment Re:So much for net neutrality (Score 1) 331

1. a data cap that from an "unlimited" that is not unlimited, since the user signed a contract that had some sort of fair use policy allowing redefinition of the word "unlimited" by the ISP,for marketing purposes;

I think most (all?) carriers have dropped unlimited data plans. Sprint is the only one I'm not sure about.

The remaining people with unlimited plans are grandfathered in (I'm one). Legally, the carrier is not required to continue to keep these people on those grandfathered unlimited plans. Once your multi-year contract is up, your service is month to month. You are free to cancel it at any time, but the carrier is also free to cancel it at any time. The carriers have, as a courtesy, just been allowing customers on the old plans to continue month-to-month under the terms of the old plan. There is no legal requirement for them to do so, and they could in theory just force you into a current data capped plan if they wanted.

I agree marketing data plans as "unlimited" in the first place was stupid. But it happened, and it's in the past. Carriers are now doing the right thing by specifying what your bandwidth limit is. The "my contract says unlimited" argument really carries little legal weight (unless a carrier still offers an unlimited data plan).

2. Did I read that right about them targeting torrent and p2p users first? Didn't the US just pass a net neutrality law? Isn't protocol-specific "accusing" a type of discrimination punished by law when it concerns American citizens, because it would automatically assume the content these users were trading was illegal without a serious base for such accusation? I mean, seriously. Who gave these corporate douches the power to decide how their service is to be used. It's about time all service providers understand that a user has a right to privacy that goes well beyond his right to sniff on the user's content.

Understand that the typical Internet service you pay $50/mo for is actually a shared service. If you to try to buy (say) 20 Mbps for your sole, exclusive use, it would cost you around $2000-$5000/mo. The only way the ISP can offer it to you for $50/mo is by having you share it with about 100 other people. And the only way sharing it with about 100 other people works is if on average each of them uses about 65 GB/month.

The easy way is to set a bandwidth limit of about 100 GB/mo (most customers won't come anywhere near 65 GB/mo so you have some extra headroom). But you can't do that with unlimited plans. So you can either let the service go to hell with transmission rates slowing to a crawl due to everyone torrenting and P2Ping 24/7. Or you can selectively slow down services which most people don't care about in order to maintain speed in the services most people do care about (web browsing). If you're going to say they're not allowed to do that because of net neutrality, then that is equivalent to choosing the "go to hell" option.

There's no free lunch here. You can pay for a dedicated line and have no usage restrictions, or you can pay the shared rate and accept some usage restrictions and bandwidth limitations. The idea that you can pay the shared rate but use it as if were a dedicated line is a fantasy sold to you by unscrupulous marketers.

Comment Re:You keep using that word. I don't think it mean (Score 2) 331

I agree - especially if tethering is not allowed.

Tethering and unlimited data are an either/or. Either you can have unlimited data but no tethering, or you can have tethering but with data caps.

Frankly, I think the latter makes a lot more sense. Tethering is a very useful tool built into every wifi-capable Android phone by default (the carriers disable it). If you have it, it eliminates the need to get a separate cellular data plan for your laptop, tablet, etc, and you're no longer limited to using those devices only within earshot of a wifi hotspot. I show people how to tether with their phones, and they're flabbergasted when they realize the possibilities it opens up. e.g. Kids can watch a streamed movie on their tablet during a long road trip. You can navigate using a bigger tablet as your map, instead of the tiny screen on your phone).

Logically, it makes no sense to discriminate based on where the data will end up - your phone or your tablet/computer. That's like a restaurant saying you aren't allowed to share the food you buy with someone else - only you are allowed to eat it. You've paid for the food/data, why should they have any say over what you do with it? On unlimited plans, disallowing tethering is really just a roundabout way to limit bandwidth (like buffet restaurants don't allow you to share food with someone not buying the buffet). Why do that and suffer the collateral damage it causes, when you can just limit bandwidth directly with a cap?

Comment Re:From TFA: bit-exact or not? (Score 1) 172

Given that CPU and memory get less expensive over time, it is no surprise that algorithms work practically today that would not have when various standards groups started meeting.

I remember when the preliminary JPEG standard first showed up in the early 1990s, a 640x480 8-bit GIF would decode and display in about a second on my PC. A 640x480 24-bit JPEG took about 30 seconds. JPEG's strength back then was its much smaller file size. Aforementioned GIF was about 200 kB, while the JPEG was about 35 kB with better colors (if your video card could do 24-bit color). That was a huge deal when most of us were still using 14.4 kbps modems and hard drives were around 500MB - 2GB.

Comment Re:No, obviously (Score 1) 263

unless of course you're terrified of computers and networks, view them as tantamount to witchcraft, don't understand them, and hate and fear anyone who does.

This is the way the world works. The 50+ generation grew up in a world without computers. The 30+ generation grew up during the transition to widespread computer use. And anyone younger grew up when computers were ubiquitous.

As long as those (currently) 50+ people are alive, these laws will probably stay in the books for the reasons you cite. As they grow old and die, people will start talking about getting rid of the "silly" distinction of crimes using a computer. And when only those currently under 30 are alive, they'll see no point to these computer-specific laws and will repeal all of them.

In other words, people's opinions don't really change. They just grow old and die, causing a shift in the prevalent opinion of the electorate.

"Old age and treachery will beat youth and skill every time." -- a coffee cup