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Comment: Re:Railroads killed by the government... (Score 1) 195

by squiggleslash (#47474927) Attached to: The Improbable Story of the 184 MPH Jet Train

No, I didn't contradict myself otherwise you'd have quoted me contradicting myself, instead of acknowledging it using different phrasing, "loss leader".


What makes food service profitable is that passengers ride the train that otherwise wouldn't. Tell Amtrak to discontinue food service, and it would destroy ridership on their already poorly performing long distance services. The subsidy needed to continue operating them would skyrocket, and would be immensely high per-passenger.

If something results in more revenue without a corresponding or larger rise in costs, it's never legitimate to describe it as "loss making." Never. So yes, it's entirely valid for me to call the claim "dubious at best".

Comment: Re:And? (Score 2) 195

by squiggleslash (#47473545) Attached to: The Improbable Story of the 184 MPH Jet Train

Nah. There's a lot of crap spoken about the NYC Jet train thing. One presumption, which has more to do with smarty-pants hindsight, is that it was a prototype for a serious train, that NYC actually planned to run high speed trains like that. But that's not the case.

NYC added jets to some unused rolling stock because it was a _quick_ _cheap_ way to get a train to go fast. They wanted a train to go fast because they were studying how high speed trains would interact with the track. Would it be possible to run them without huge infrastructure upgrade costs?

And lest you think "But track's track right? Surely all they have to do is make it strong enough", there are known problems with running trains at high speed on conventional track without significant engineering. The major one is something called "Hunting", which is an oscillation of the wheel sets between one extreme and the other that generates a kind of feedback loop. With slower trains, it's not a problem, there's not enough energy involved, but as the train reaches higher speeds, the wheelsets oscillate left and right with greater, and greater, violence. Anything over 100mph generally is thought to require a certain amount of attention.

"OK", you say, "But why jets? Why not just regear a normal locomotive and have it carry a couple of cars so it can get to that speed?" The answer to that is that a normal locomotive is heavy. Virtually every vision of high speed rail from sane people (that is, people who don't work for the Federal Railroad Administration) involves trains that are as light weight as practically possible, because heavy = more energy needed to start the train, heavy = more problems stopping the train in an emergency, and heavy = greater damage to tracks. Sticking a Jet, designed for an aircraft, a device known for needing designs where every pound of weight is justified, on a railroad carriage doesn't sound so insane now does it?

Had NYC continued to exist rather than being merged into PR in the horrific Penn Central project, and decided to make a serious go of this, you would have expected the research to lead to a conventional EMU style train, or maybe something like the APT with light weight cars and as light weight as possible electric motive units. No trains with jets. It's an interesting question what the railroad map of the US would have looked like had governments not imposed impractical restrictions on urban redevelopment, had they not overregulated the railroads, and had the Penn Central never happened.

Comment: Re:Railroads killed by the government... (Score 2, Informative) 195

by squiggleslash (#47473475) Attached to: The Improbable Story of the 184 MPH Jet Train

I think pretty much everyone accepts the government killed passenger rail. It's not just what you mention, but also state support for suburbanization and the running down of Urban areas, including effective bans on Urban redevelopment (well meant but poorly thought out "parking mandates" effectively made it prohibitively expensive to redevelop land in cities), leading to the flight out of cities to areas where car ownership was mandatory.

As far as Amtrak losing money on food service, despite it becoming a right-wing meme that this true, it's dubious at best. Amtrak doesn't charge enough for food to cover the costs of providing it, but that's normal, both commercial services - even pre-1950s when most passenger services were profitable - and government provided services generally don't expect to make their money from charges for food.

What makes food service profitable is that passengers ride the train that otherwise wouldn't. Tell Amtrak to discontinue food service, and it would destroy ridership on their already poorly performing long distance services. The subsidy needed to continue operating them would skyrocket, and would be immensely high per-passenger.

This wouldn't even be an argument but for some stupid politics in the 1980s, where Congress started to micromanage the service and decided, despite the fact no commercial railroad would dream of doing such a thing, to demand Amtrak make food service "pay" for itself out of food service charges, rather than be paid for in part through ticket revenue.

So why is Amtrak unprofitable?

Amtrak's actually pretty profitable in one area, the NEC, which is where they control their tracks and were able to build a redundant (that is, a train covering stops already covered by other trains) service that people actually wanted to use, and charge commercial rates for it.

The big problem is outside of that area, it has much less flexibility. It runs very slow (average 40mph) trains that are slow because they stop every 20-30 minutes. Why do they stop every 20-30 minutes?

Want to know? Specifically, why does the SIlver Star stop in both Orlando and Winter Park which are both part of the same metro area?

Answer: because Orlando gives them Corrine Brown's vote when funding comes up in Congress, and Winter Park gets them a (semi-reluctant, he's having to avoid attacks of being a RINO from a strong Tea Party movement) John Mica's vote. And likewise there's a train in, I don't know, the North West that stops every twenty minutes to get votes there too. And each vote crosses over. The votes in the North West are for both the Empire Builder and the Silver Star, you can't vote for one without the other. Brown and Mica's votes are, again, for the Silver Star and the Empire Builder.

Ludicrous? Yes. But we don't have a Congress based upon people deciding the "right" thing to do for the country, we have one based upon people deciding the popular thing for their constituents.

Given enough capital funding, Amtrak could probably do to the rest of the country what it's done to the North East, but it'll never get that funding, because what it needs to do is something that'd involve dropping stops, and thus dropping supporters. The good news is that private railroads are finally taking an interest, and there are projects in both Florida and Texas right now - active, in the process of getting regulatory approval, by companies who own or will own the tracks - to start building what people want to use, not what Congress makes possible.

I'm not blaming Amtrak for this state of affairs. I'm blaming Congress, and by extension, us voters.

Comment: Re:For us dummies.... (Score 1) 382

by squiggleslash (#47461447) Attached to: White House Punts On Petition To Allow Tesla Direct Sales

Traditional car companies see Tesla as a threat

No, they really don't. Tesla's a small luxury car manufacturer, these come and go with depressing regularity.

The car manufacturers are just as unhappy with the dealership system as Tesla is. The difference is that they're resigned to it, having worked with it for decades.

Want to know one reason why Ford didn't go bust but GM did? GM's large number of brands meant it had more dealer agreements, and each cancelled dealer agreement was a lawsuit waiting to happen, so it ended up burdened with more brands and more dealers than it needed.

Comment: Re:Had to stop after a minute... (Score 1) 401

by squiggleslash (#47461137) Attached to: Comcast Customer Service Rep Just Won't Take No For an Answer

Try something out of left field that they're unlikely to have an answer for (from marketing, anyway.)

"I'm opposed to Comcast's position on net neutrality" would be a good one. You can kinda feel good making it, and they're not going to add long drawn out political positions to their anti-churn script.

Comment: Political background (Score 4, Insightful) 151

by Simon Brooke (#47447527) Attached to: Scotland Could Become Home To Britain's First Spaceport

Relax, everyone. This is a non-story; it isn't going to happen, and no-one seriously expects it to.

We're having a referendum in September on whether to separate from the UK and become an independent nation. The UK government has woken up - very late - to the realisation that it's quite likely to lose, and consequently will also lose its only nuclear submarine base, 90% of its oil revenue, and probably its permanent seat on the UN security council. Consequently they're panicking and offering us all sorts of unlikely bribes. The spaceport won't happen because

  1. If we vote 'yes', it's not going to be an urgent priority of the Scottish government;
  2. if we vote 'no', this and all the other promised bribes will be quietly forgotten.

So relax. The fact that there's no money and no commercial use for it, and that we're too far from the equator, doesn't matter; no-one seriously intends to build it. It's a media stunt, pure and simple. It isn't going to happen.

Comment: Personal Hub (Score 4, Interesting) 56

by Simon Brooke (#47422709) Attached to: The Future of Wearables: Standalone, Unobtrusive, and Everywhere

Probably the future of wearables is the personal hub.

The problem with wearables is that a radio capable of sustaining a connection to the outside world - be it 4g or wifi - needs a fair bit of power and consequently quite a lot of battery. So devices have to be fairly chunky, or else have to be recharged more often than you'd like. But your bluetooth mouse probably goes months on one charge - mine certainly does. So the solutions is to have a device mounted discreetly on your belt or in your handbag, or carried in a pocket, which just acts as a personal hub/firewall, doing backhaul for your wearables. It doesn't need a screen. It doesn't need apps. But once it's paired with your wearables, you can use a device which has no backhaul capability to make phone calls or to access any service on the Internet.

This is an extension of how Google Glass or your Pebble watch already uses your smartphone. The smartphone acts as a personal hub. But if the display you actually use is the one on your Glass or the one on your Pebble, you don't need the big, fragile, power-hungry screen on your smartphone any more; so the personal hub can be cheaper and much more durable than any smartphone.

Once you've got that concept, there are other services that a personal hub can supply to your wearables, for example storage.

Comment: Re:Modern Day Anti-Evolutionists (Score 3, Insightful) 497

by Simon Brooke (#47414851) Attached to: Climate Change Skeptic Group Must Pay Damages To UVA, Michael Mann

Ain't going to happen, sadly. As the temperate zone moves closer to the world's poles, and the regions we're currently growing cereal crops on become progressively more arid, there is simply less area of land (square miles or kilometres or however you want to measure it) on which crops can be grown - and that's ignoring the costs of clearing and draining that land, and all the effects of ecocide.

At the same time as this is happening, of course, all our critical infrastructure will become unusable unless we make huge new investments in flood walls. For example, I work for a major international bank, which, obviously, has its critical data infrastructure replicated in seven cities across the globe. Only one problem: in six of those seven cities, our data centres are within ten metres of current sea level. Most major financial centres are old port cities, and all old port cities are on the coast. So over the next fifty years we have to either all relocate our trading infrastructure, or else abandon it. What I expect will happen is that we'll delay and dawdle until it's too late, and then our whole civilisation will collapse under the combined pressures of hunger, refugees, and rising water levels.

We're already past the point where there's any hope of the planet being able to support even half its current population in 100 years time. The real policy question is how we now radically reduce the population without war, pestilence, famine and death.

Comment: Re:etc (Score 1) 125

by squiggleslash (#47414135) Attached to: CentOS Linux Version 7 Released On x86_64

I find this comment somewhat scary.

If the reason people are pronouncing etc "ett-see" is because they don't know, here's the deal: etc is an abbreviation for "Et cetera", which means "and so on". You're supposed to pronounce it "Et centera" for the same reason that if I wrote "Brocolli w/ carrots" you'd read it and pronounce it as "Brocolli with carrots", not "Brocolli double-ewe carrots."

Comment: Re:Consciousness (Score 1) 284

by squiggleslash (#47399205) Attached to: Consciousness On-Off Switch Discovered Deep In Brain

No, it doesn't.

Even if we reject religion, and, say, go for a "World is actually The Matrix" hypothesis (which, similarly, has human bodies controlled by observers external to the observed world", the best we can genuinely say about this region of the brain is that activating it disables "whatever controls the brain" (internal or external.) Unless the observers have an seperate memory (and why would they?), everything is consistent with that observation link being severed. The observers (be they souls or Matrix hook-ups) are no longer able to modify the brain's memory, to move the body, or in any other way interact with it. When that part of the brain is allowed to operate again, they can do so.

If we at least assume memory is local, which it has to be, there's no incompatability. If memory is not local, it's still possible there's no incompatability because the lack of communications between observer and avatar will result in no memory data being written.

On the other hand, the good news is that as you haven't proven the non-existence of God, you will be unable to prove that black is white, and thus will not be killed on the next Zebra crossing.

egrep patterns are full regular expressions; it uses a fast deterministic algorithm that sometimes needs exponential space. -- unix manuals