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Comment: Re:Um, what? (Score 1) 409

by sjbe (#48469195) Attached to: Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina Considering US Presidential Run

That you think "playing nice with Russia" could possibly work indicates a complete disconnect from reality.

That you don't understand that "playing nice" is a colloquialism indicates you completely missed the point.

Because they're forced to do so by law.

Yep. We are forced to pay for lots of things by law. All those tanks and planes and medicare benefits and government salaries are required by law too and we all share the benefits of them whether we like it or not. And I'm ok with that. Medical care isn't free even if someone doesn't have insurance. If they don't pay then the rest of us do. Everyone uses medical care so everyone should have to have a little skin in the game.

In most cases, insurance rates are much higher than before

Insurance rates have been going up by double digit percentages for years. Nothing new there. The ACA did not and could not possibly fix that. At best it may minimize the rate of increase. The reasons for insurance rates climbing have little to do with access to coverage.

Millions also have lost insurance coverage.

Wrong. Millions have changed insurance coverage. HUGE difference. People now have access to coverage regardless of their employment situation. Losing access to health insurance because you lost a job is profoundly immoral. If someone chooses not to pay for coverage that is their right but since they are forcing that cost on others then they should be penalized.

It is now well established that Obamacare was brought into existence by threat and fraud.

Really? What threat? Nobody was threatened to pass the ACA. And it was passed by congress and (mostly) okay'd by the Supreme Court. What fraud? That Obama said (stupidly) that everyone could keep their coverage if they liked it? Way to miss the big picture dude.

Comment: Unsolved problems (Score 1) 87

by sjbe (#48468771) Attached to: WaveNET – the Floating, Flexible Wave Energy Generator

Wave energy is one of those ideas which seem really obvious from a distance, so the fact that project after project fails does not seem to dissuade anyone. They were obviously just doing it wrong.

Do you know how many rockets were unsuccessfully fired before we finally got one safely into space? Do you know how many airplanes were lost before we managed to make flight safe? How many boats were lost crossing the oceans?

Just because we haven't figured it out yet doesn't mean we won't. Only way to crack the problem is to try.

Comment: Laying cable (Score 1) 495

by sjbe (#48467935) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Power Grid So Crummy In So Many Places?

When they bury cables, do they at least have the good sense to be surrounding these cables in pipes?

Depends on the type of cable and where it is being buried and how deep. Often yes but conduit is not always necessary. A lot of the cables are pretty robust on their own and the biggest utility in conduit is making it easier to service the cable later on. If you don't need to do that then it isn't always necessary. I'm more familiar with what they do with data cables and those frequently are not put in conduit.

I just imagine that if people dig trenches to lay cables, it would make sense to have them lay a pipe

The conduit they use for transmission usually comes on reels from what I've seen. They trench it into place then use some specialized wire feeding equipment to push the wire through once the conduit is in place. My father actually used to service and sell this sort of gear. They also don't always need to dig trenches. There is a lot of boring equipment not unlike stuff used for drilling that can be used so that you don't have to dig up everything between two points to lay the conduit. Some of this stuff is pretty cool to watch in action.

If the wire wants to curl up, so it doesn't want to go straight through the pipe, then fine: just attach the wire to a battery-powered toy car, and drive it through the pipe.

Wire curl isn't really the big limitation because the conduit is (usually) fairly smooth and it's not usually super hard to straighten the wire. The big problem is that you are essentially pushing a rope and the force you can use is limited by the durability of the cable jacket and the weight of the cable itself plus friction. 4AWG copper wire (think jumper cable thickness) for instance weighs 126lbs per 1000 feet. Add in frictional forces and you have to drive the cable with a force of a few hundred pounds to feed 1000ft of wire through a piece of conduit. Since the insulation material is relatively soft it's not hard to get to the point where you cannot feed more wire without damaging the cable due to the force required.

Why not just stand at one end of a pipe, pull out the old cable, and replace it with a good cable?

Sometimes they can do that but it depends on the circumstances. Remember that if they are replacing a cable there is probably a reason and the old one may no longer be intact. It also can be the case that they need additional wires. This sort of work is quite a bit more challenging than feeding wires through conduit in a building.

Comment: Re:Um, what? (Score 4, Informative) 409

by sjbe (#48467541) Attached to: Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina Considering US Presidential Run

How's that Hopey-Changey guy working out?

Mediocre mostly. That said it's unclear what Obama has to do with the profound incompetence of George W Bush. Obama has his own set of defects that are unique to him. GWB is without question the least competent president we've had since probably Herbert Hoover.

I bet he's going to make the Middle East stable, stop warrantless wiretapping, get the US out of Afghanistan.

Nobody is going to make the Middle East stable particularly after Bush the Lesser started two wars over there that we are still dealing with over a decade later. And anyone who expected any president to voluntarily give up their expanded surveillance powers is a naive fool.

Oh, yeah, and reset relations with Russia.

Kinda hard to do that when you are dealing with a megalomaniac like Putin. You go ahead and tell everyone how to play nice with Russia because nobody else seems to have a good idea.

And I bet he comes up with healthcare reform that will allow people to keep their insurance plans and doctors, too.

Most people did. And now millions more have insurance that previously could not afford any. (including myself btw) But way to miss the big picture over rhetorical nitpicking. Yes there are significant problems with the law but the basics of what it accomplishes are a good thing.

Comment: George HW Bush (Score 5, Insightful) 409

by sjbe (#48467253) Attached to: Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina Considering US Presidential Run

I'd probably consider him the best President we have had in the past 40 years, especially considering the fact that the Iron Curtain fell during his administration and the US had no significant enemies to worry about for almost a decade.

I think calling the elder Bush the best President we've had in 40 years is more opinion than fact but he certainly was among the most qualified guys we've had in the job. Reagan gets the love from Republicans but I think Bush Sr. was a better president overall. Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, Envoy to China, Director of CIA, and Vice President. Unlike his son he was actually genuinely qualified for the job - at least as much as anyone can be. He was quite good at foreign policy which is about 2/3 of the job description for a president. Unfortunately he was not especially talented at domestic policy and even said publicly that he didn't enjoy it much. He did nothing to combat deficit spending and basically continued policies started under Reagan. When the economy tanked (not really his fault) near the election he was pretty much screwed regarding getting re-elected.

Comment: Worst of both worlds (Score 4, Insightful) 495

by sjbe (#48466923) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Power Grid So Crummy In So Many Places?

I've often wondered about the possibility of not re-burying the trench: make the trench shallower, cover it with a walkable grate, and just leave it that way.

Looks terrible, creates a safety hazard (grates WILL be pulled up and people electrocuted), creates a metal theft problem, doesn't adequately protect the cable from freeze/thaw problems, doesn't protect from rodents & wildlife adequately, still vulnerable to weather, etc. Problems with doing this are legion. The biggest is safety. You do NOT want the general public to have convenient access to power lines because someone will inevitably do something stupid.

It's actually cheaper and safer to bury it. A grate like you propose would be kind of the worst of both worlds in practice.

Comment: Re:8X cost increase up front (Score 1) 495

by sjbe (#48466879) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Power Grid So Crummy In So Many Places?

So, in places where space is a premium and it's nearly impossible to have ariel (think of a downtown area like Chicago, NYC or LA), it makes perfect sense to bury.

Absolutely. Otherwise you get what what the guys at the phone company term a "manhole in the sky". (Put down the dirty joke and step away. Just step away.) When I visited Shanghai you'll see a rats nest of wires almost everywhere because wires that should be in the ground aren't. It's a huge mess. Most people have no idea just how much buried cable they have around them in a big city.

It also makes sense for areas where there are existing easements, or private property. I have a buried wire from the drop near my house to my home and the cost wasn't outrageous. A little trenching and some conduit and we were good to go. It's a pretty short run though and there are no special property issues to deal with or engineering or roads involved. Of course that still didn't prevent our power from going out when a squirrel fried itself and tripped the fuse on our transformer. It's when you have to get into engineering and easements and the like that the cost skyrockets. The actual physical work is normally nothing too outrageous but it's the legal issues that take time and cost cubic dollars.

Comment: 8X cost increase up front (Score 5, Informative) 495

by sjbe (#48465941) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Power Grid So Crummy In So Many Places?

No - it's not even a question. Bury the lines and you will remove a large number of causes for power outages.

Quote correct. Thing is someone has to pay for the upfront cost of burying the cables and it is much more expensive. Where I live stringing wires on poles costs in rough numbers something like $1 per linear foot. Burying the cable costs about $8 per linear foot. (this is semi-reliable info from family who worked in the business and would know) Getting the funds to do any sort of meaningful program of burying wires would likely involve a rate increase which tends to be as popular as a lead filled life preserver.

In the long run buried lines will save money - even if you are in an area where the ground is filled with rocks.

That isn't so clear in a lot of places. Repairs on above ground wires are more common but cheaper when they occur. Roll a truck, look up and get busy. Repairs on buried cable is just the opposite. Even finding the problem is harder and many repairs involve a lot of digging. There are places near where I live (semi-rural 20 miles from a major metro area) where it might make economic sense to bury the cable but also quite a few where it most likely doesn't. You can do a LOT of repairs before you even break even on the buried cable despite its general higher reliability. Plus you are replacing infrastructure that already exists and lots of it so any sort of economically rational replacement program would take decades. Every place that truly needs reliable power has a backup generator anyway so it's not like you are gaining much in practical terms by burying the cables for quite a few customers.

Don't get me wrong, I think a lot more cables should be buried than currently are but it's not as simple an equation as buried = more reliable = cheaper.

Comment: Economics of auto parts (Score 1) 281

Can you explain to us how the accounting is done?

Yes though you are asking a bigger question than you may realize.

If I buy a part 20 years on for a vehicle for which I'm not even the first owner, and it's a part which can fit 20 different vehicles, how do you account for the profit?

Whose profit are you trying to account for? The manufacturer of the part? The OEM who built the car? The dealer? For OEM parts the OEM (think Ford or GM) will purchase the parts from a supply chain during the production run and they will usually contract for several years worth of replacement parts in addition to the production run - usually something like 3-7 years worth. Once the original production run ends it usually moves into aftermarket manufacturers, sometimes custom replacements or sometimes the original manufacturer will continue to produce the part for some time if there is a market for it. It's not unheard of for the OEM to keep the supply chain for replacement parts running for 15-20 years though that isn't the norm.

You don't have accurate statistics on failures on vehicles that old, because people don't bring them back to the dealer for service.

Actually dealers do see a lot of older vehicles for service so they have pretty decent information. Aftermarket parts dealers also have a pretty good idea what parts fail commonly on which vehicles. Furthermore the parts that are failing in year 5 are mostly going to be the same as the parts failing in year 20 with a few additions.

From my various forays into automotive parts replacement and part ordering, I know that without exception the manufacturers charge absolutely abusive prices for replacement parts.

Actually it isn't usually the manufacturer charging the outrageous markup, it is the dealer who is independent. (And you are right, it is outrageous) The OEM usually charges the dealer a 10-40% markup. Anything you buy from a dealer typically has a minimum of an 8X or more markup over the actual manufacturing cost. To give you an example, my company makes a jumper harness for a GM vehicle. Costs us about $3.00 to make it and we sell it for roughly $4.00. We are a Tier 3 so by the time it gets to GM it probably costs somewhere around $6-8 once you factor in the markups along the way and they probably double the price they sell to a dealer. If you were to march into a dealer and try to buy our part by itself from a dealer it would cost you somewhere between $30-50 if they would even sell it to you as a standalone product which they probably would not. I've seen assemblies that cost $3 to actually make selling for $200+ and the majority of that markup comes from the dealer.

You're telling me that having more expensive parts doesn't lead to more profit?

No, I said a larger part count for the OEM generally leads to less profit. Increasing part counts has no benefit to the OEM. Ford has competition and they cannot simply pass on any markups to the car buyer. In essence they have a cap on how much the can sell the car for. If they make a more complicated part that will cost more to make, it will break more often and sooner and Ford will make less profit. There is a limit to what they can charge for aftermarket parts too though the price elasticity is less sensitive. If a car constantly breaks people tend to get rid of the car in the long run. Furthermore the reputation benefits foregone in lost sales alone far outweigh any minor additional profit from more expensive replacement parts.

Automakers derive significant profit from parts sales, and EVs both have less parts and are less prone to failure than vehicles with ICEs.

They do get some profit from part sales but only after the warranty runs out and not nearly as much as you probably think. The expense of recalls from failures can easily swamp any profit from a vehicle line. Even the most profitable vehicle manufacturer has a net profit margin no higher than 8-10% and most are somewhere around 5%. Do you have any idea how easy it is for 5% net profit to vanish? Car manufacturers make most of their money from selling and financing cars. Parts might help but most of that profit accrues to the (independent) dealer network rather than the manufacturer.

We've been driving production hybrids for fifteen years now. We already know the best way to do it, you replace the torque converter of an automatic transmission with an electric motor. In spite of that, people are still doing it in other ways which cost more money, and which increase parts count.

If you think the technology in hybrids is mature you are very mistaken. It's evolving quite rapidly and the technology is still highly non-standard. I defy you to find an engineering consensus that there is a "best way to do it" and certainly nothing as simple as just swapping out the torque converter. That might be your opinion but it isn't a widely shared one. Hybrids are expensive because there is a lot of engineering and tooling costs that have to be recouped and the sales volumes aren't big enough yet to fully amortize the fixed costs away.

Comment: The part count is not a cost advantage (Score 2) 281

We're not talking about evolutionary change but revolutionary. Drop in parts number is so drastic that it allows for more competitors to sprung up (hence Tesla)

I'm a cost accountant and I do this sort of stuff for a living. You have the cost accounting completely wrong. The different in part numbers provides Tesla no cost advantage at this time because the parts they have to buy are significantly more expensive. Electric vehicles have such low sales volumes currently that any cost advantage they might have from reduced part counts is hugely swamped by the high R&D costs and fixed costs of production. They simply don't have enough volume to reach minimum efficient scale.

The risk for established players is in going from oligopoly and into a commoditized market.

There is minimal risk of automobiles becoming meaningfully more commoditized than they already are. Switching to an electric platform will not change that. A commodity product is one that one unit is indistinguishable from another. That does not describe the car industry unless you abstract more than is appropriate. The established players you are talking about already have the capability to develop and sell an electric vehicle. Several of them have already done so. Nothing Tesla is doing is outside of the big automaker's capabilities. They are staying out of the market because the market simply isn't big enough given the state of the art in electric vehicle technology right now to make it worth their while. There is enough room for a few niche products but that's it for the time being. It's not worth their time right now because they cannot make a profit doing it yet. Even Tesla hasn't made any sort of meaningful operating profit on car sales yet.

Comment: Risk is non-zero (Score 1) 281

Are there any reasons (safety or otherwise) why it wouldn't be easy to install a natural gas compressor in my house?

Any time you have a compressed flammable substance near your house there is some risk involved. I don't think it is substantially more than the risk from a propane tank but it's non-zero. Nothing to get paranoid about but there are safety considerations.

Would having a high pressure tank of natural gas sitting in or near my house sit well with my insurance company?

It could affect the underwriting premiums potentially.

Comment: Their job is dangerous (Score 1) 474

by sjbe (#48449689) Attached to: Cops 101: NYC High School Teaches How To Behave During Stop-and-Frisk

I was about to say the same thing, but from an American perspective. Why is it understandable?

Because their job is genuinely dangerous unlike yours. Nobody calls the police to give them hugs and cookies. They get called when bad things are happening. Often it's no big deal but at other times their lives are genuinely in danger. People draw guns on police on a regular basis. Cops wear bullet proof vests for very good reasons. It is impossible to tell in advance whether the dispatch call they are on will be the one that results in them needing to draw their gun. You'd be a little tribal too if you weren't sure who you could trust.

Understanding why they behave the way they do is not the same thing as condoning their behavior.

Seriously, before anybody tries to defend them, answer me this, when was the last time you can think of that a cop actually prevented a crime. Not caught a criminal, but actually prevented a crime from happening.

Their job is to enforce the laws. Not to prevent crime. That said it's easily demonstrable that police presence reduces incidence of crimes. There is plenty of data out there if you had bothered to look.

Comment: Re:Trust (Score 1) 474

by sjbe (#48449643) Attached to: Cops 101: NYC High School Teaches How To Behave During Stop-and-Frisk

What? Why is that understandable?

Because every day they have to go into situations where their lives are potentially in danger. Nobody calls the police to give them cookies or hugs. Their job is dangerous and that tends to make them a bit tribal. Every single time a police officer stops a suspect there is a chance they could be injured or worse. Most people are good decent people but it's impossible to tell in advance the few that are not because they don't look any different. If some small percent of the people you dealt with on a daily basis represented a non-trivial chance of you being injured you would be a little cautious about who you trusted too.

You could say that it's understandable that waiters have an us-vs-them worldview. Or IT support. Or musicians. Or doctors.

Exactly my point. I said it is understandable. I did not say it was the right thing to do. You can understand why someone does something without supporting what they are doing. I understand why cops behave the way they do. Doesn't mean I condone their behavior when it becomes a problem.

Oh, and except for maybe doctors in dangerous areas none of those groups you mention face even close the amount of danger that cops do. IT support is not likely to get shot even though a few of the worse ones might actually deserve it. (yes that's a joke) I'm not especially worried about anyone drawing a gun on me in my day job.

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.