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Comment: Re:747s with lasers! (Score 1) 370 370

Tried technology... Funny, but I think you just nailed the problem. And it's more within the scope of philosophy of science than anything else. The point is: our civilisation still has no idea how to fund applied science.

There are three main areas of science. Two are well understood and funding for them is well organized. The third one, perhaps most interesting, is a big unknown from the management side.

Disclaimer: I'm looking at this from the other side of the pond and applying my local experience. I wish to do applied science but have no funding mechanisms available for that.

We know how to deal with basic science. You have an idea, a hypothesis, whatever, you want to research it. You have no idea whether it's useful for anything - it's not really important to you. OK! Show that it will expand our general knowledge in a meaningful way. Funding is generally civilian (through the government in most cases). The results are judged using your publications. If you can get published and others cite you, you have increased our knowledge, congrats. Someday someone may build something useful that would be impossible without your work. Cool. The hypothesis is the core.

We know how to deal with R&D. You have an idea how to do something well known better using new technology. Or something new, using known technology. Show that you have a good chance of succeeding, then you get the funding. You might get some funding from the government, from the military, commercial R&D also fit here. If it seems to be a likely success, you get the money. The funding is based on weighing ROI (or other metrics) against the risk of the project - higher, if the technology is new. You may fail, that's accepted, but the risk should be relatively low - you know what you are doing. The application is the core.

Then we have the applied science. You have an idea that some well grounded scientific theory might be useful for a certain application. There's nothing out there proving that yet. You want to find out whether your idea is right. The application is clear, the theoretical side is clear (you need a theory here, not just a hypothesis, otherwise it's basic science), but neither is the core. The risk of failure is very high - if you knew it will work it would be R&D - but you focus on the application, not just gathering knowledge, it might not be very publishable, it might not increase general knowledge much - so, not basic science either.

We have no idea how to fund and manage something like this. Even though this is the road towards real breakthroughs. R&D is only incremental. Basic science has no direct application. Applied science is what moves us ahead. The risktakers mostly lose, but the ones who succeed move us forward to the next era of technology.

In this case the Pentagon seems to have decided that R&D is unlikely to provide the required advantage. R&D is predictable. It is a part of the race between armor and weapon. Protection gets better, but threats develop as well. The only thing that could jump ahead is a radical new idea. Something new that would be very hard to counter. Applied science. But the Pentagon had no management tools, procedures, etc. to handle something like that. So, procedures aimed at R&D were used. A prototype was required from the start - wrong. The decision on whether to continue funding the project was delayed until a prototype could be tested - wrong again.

It is a far more general problem. We need to learn how to conduct applied science in a responsible way. How to create research milestones that make sense and that allow the project to be halted (without prejudice - as a sunk cost) as soon as it becomes obvious that the proposed approach does not show a good chance of success. There are counterexamples, but in general this is something we don't seem to be able to do in a consistent way.

That's the only reason the money could be called "wasted". It made perfect sense to try these approaches. But letting them go this far and generate such costs - that's a proof that management of this type of projects is an art we simply haven't grasped yet.

Comment: Re:But they help also (Score 1) 366 366

Do you even know anything about cab service here? I live in the very centre of the city, the densest area there is. Still, under 15 minutes, less than 10 minutes for most calls. Cab companies have car age requirements just as Uber does. The company I use - 6 years max (after yesterday's trip I just wish they would also ban overuse of air fresheners, the guy must have had a non-functioning nose). I don't even know what a Crown Vic is (now I do, thanks, Google), this is Europe. And trip time is really a small part of the price, distance is far more important (in my experience traffic changes the price by at most 10%).

In other words - thanks for confirming my point, your license system is broken.

Comment: Re:But they help also (Score 1) 366 366

Then your license system is broken. Where I live, the average waiting time is - in my experience - well under 15 minutes. The driver knows the city well (2M city, over 500 km^2). The fare is posted on the door, clear and predictable. The quality of the car depends on the choice of company - more pricey ones tend to have much better cars, the cheapest are not so good, but still, average. No room for Uber in my opinion.

There are pathologies, of course. There are ways to cheat the system and operate without a license (you need to do this "occasionally"), so a bit like Uber. I've tried those a few times, they are indeed a bit cheaper but only one driver knew how to get to my destination (a fairly well-known street) without a GPS and most of them drove extremely carelessly and, when traffic allows, way too fast. There are also some licensed drivers tampering with meters (they are risking very high fines). Some (non-company) licensed taxis have prices set to the official maximum and hunt for foreigners in most popular places - fully legal, but not really moral. But if you know all that... Why Uber? Get rid of the knowledge of the city guaranteed by the exam, the requirement of a good car, etc?

Comment: Re:Yawn ... (Score 1) 228 228

Incandescents are not only cheaper but far more eco-friendly than modern bulbs where light is rarely used, e.g. in some basements (the difference in energy consumed is negligible, the amount of pollution in production/disposal is not). Large kettles are far more useful (and energy efficient) for large families. So what that they can last a long time if I don't have one now? Agreed about vacuum cleaners though - the power race resulted in models with surprisingly low suction/engine power ratio, as absurd as the gigahertz race around Y2K.

So what? Using prohibition instead of incentives for such trivial matters is a very worrying trend. That's clear overregulation and that's something we should never support if we value freedom.

Plus, it has clear negative consequences. Example - our neighborhood used to segregate trash quite well, even though it was purely voluntary. The company collecting trash was selected depending on price, quality of service and ecology (sorting facilities etc. were a clear plus). The educational campaigns seem to have worked. Some neighborhoods were not as eco-friendly though, so Enter The State. To promote segregation, collection of trash is now the responsibility of the local governments, they select the company. We pay more (and we'd pay a lot more if we chose not to segregate). The company does not have a sorting facility, unlike the previous one, they simply burn trash or dump it. Trash is often not collected for several days. Competition is in ruins - only the companies that got selected in some areas can stay in market, since there's no private business anymore. Result? Most people I know don't care about sorting anymore. As long as we remember to throw some trash into the sorted bins to avoid being forced to switch to the "unsorted" tariff, who cares? I know I certainly lost the drive I used to have.

The results are even more general. I see more and more anti-eco rethorics in everyday conversations. The official dream is that we're building an eco-generation. I'm not so sure about the reality. We'll see if the media campaign is stronger than the negative word of the streets. The general sentiment seems far less eco-friendly and - even worse - more anti-EU than a few years ago...

Comment: Re:Simple solution (Score 1) 431 431

Don't over-praise Logitech though, they do make mistakes. I just changed a great wired Logitech mouse (wires do break near plugs sooner or later) to a really nice wireless one (M525). It's almost great, but the click-wheel is near unusable, simply because it's tiltable. Every third click or so causes an unwanted tilt. Worst case - using a browser in windows. Usually I want to open a link in a new tab (typical for my mode of browsing) and end up going back in history for that page, with a bit of luck also opening the link, but that's not guaranteed, depends on the sequence of tilt and click. This "back" behavior seems hardcoded. Even a single checkbox in the driver to say "on tilt do NOTHING" would solve the issue.

Tiltable clickwheels are not a very good idea. Tiltable clickwheels requiring little force to tilt are simply dumb. Tiltable wheels not easily controlled from the driver's setup window are evil.

I actually have a brand new, not-so-cheap mouse, with no malfunctions at all, great sensors, good overall ergonomics... and I'm actively looking for a good replacement, just because of that wheel. Bad, bad design.

Comment: Re:Yawn ... (Score 1) 228 228

Unfortunately that's limited to those who still own decades-old things. There's a limited number of those still working and they do break down eventually.

Newer stuff is designed to fail and be replaced. A lot of it fails as soon as warranty period passes, some last a few years more. Really solid stuff is rare and mostly found in niches.

So, if everything new is "smart", after a few years it will be common. And if you have something as good as the iron you mention, take good care of it - you won't find anything as good now.

Comment: Re:Yawn ... (Score 1) 228 228

And if you don't want to participate? Sophisticated pricing mechanisms will allow for that. You can pay more to fund your all your personal priorities. It works for everyone.

Yeah, right. If it maximizes green energy use, the EU regulations will make sure I can't opt out. More and more they are switching away from using price incentives to direct regulation. Incandescent lightbulbs, high power vacuum cleaners, soon larger electric kettles...

Comment: Re:Huh (Score 1) 223 223

I fully agree except for the wording of the last sentence. How is this a failed landing? Not as good as we hoped for, sure, but the lander is not damaged, the basic scientific programme was completed, data sent. Now they could perhaps do more with the additional solar energy, but the landing was not good enough to do that. Yes, it could have gone even better, much better, but sying it's a "failure" is far too negative.

Comment: Re:What is critical thinking? (Score 4, Interesting) 553 553

Nah, you're wrong, thinking black-and-white. That's just a case of optimization error. They most definitely do want people with good critical thinking skills, just not too many - just enough to fill the right positions. They simply missed the golden ratio, too many people are on the "herd" education track. The positions are filled by idiots and companies lose money. They just assumed the "right" group is big enough to support their growth and they were wrong.

Comment: Re:What is critical thinking? (Score 5, Interesting) 553 553

Ok... Now please explain what that huge difference you percieve is, the one that warrants the use of the words "highly doctored". Because to me this looks like just a longer version of the same thing. "Don't teach them to think, teach them to accept whatever the parents and the church want them to". Quite hard for me to find any redeeming aspect of that line. It's just a combination of catering to not-so-bright parents afraid of losing authority because of their own stupidity and to everyone in power, political, religious or any other, as dumber people are easier to control.

Comment: Re:Performance (Score 1) 283 283

Not surprising. Electricity is the silver bullet of the energy market - it scales, it has a lot of production options, it can power almost anything. It's the closest thing to "pure energy" you can get at the moment. Wind, solar, nuclear, coal, gas... who cares - the reciever works just as well, and the engines are very good.

The one thing I really miss is a way to transform elctricity onto kinetic energy that scales into space. The one limit of current technology I find really annoying is that it takes so much chemical fuel to get to space. That means pollution, but more importantly that means weight. Find a way to get to orbit with nothing but electricity (in orbit we already have ion drives) and we're ready to go spaceborne on macro scale.

Of course that might be a bit optimistic, as I'm assuming that electrical energy storage will continue to develop at a high rate. I wonder where the limit for that is. If electricity remains difficult to store (in kg/J terms), it's a dead end.

Comment: Re:Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Score 4, Insightful) 173 173

Nitpicking is fun, so I'll have a go.

This is true, first missions used caveman technology compared to what is available now. 20+ years later is a completely different matter, right? That would be the 90s. Great, succesful missions like Mars Observer, Mars Polar Lander or Mars Climate Orbiter? Oh, wait...

Over 20 years of technology moving forward did not make it easy for NASA to reach Mars. 20 more would not make it that much easier for the first-timer - a bit cheaper, perhaps. This is really an impressive accomplishment.

Comment: Re:Uncompetitive? (Score 1) 312 312

So, in other words, any law is a bad law if it is not exactly like in the US? To hell with the fact, that European countries are in general democracies? And more direct than American at that (direct election, not through electors)?

Yes, some jobs are "closed" in a way in Europe, with huge differences between countries. But, pathological examples aside (and they do exist), they are only closed in terms of setting prerequisites and perhaps taxes - very far from a cartel. In this case:
- As long as you are legally allowed to drive and do not make a profit from it, you're free to arrange cost sharing with passengers - it's eco-friendly and good for the traffic.
- If you are healthy and have extended insurance, register and you can carry passengers for profit on prenegotiated routes.
- If you are healthy, have extended insurance, probably pass an extra test, maybe something else as well (I'm not German)... In other words, if you meet all the requirements, you can register as a taxi driver. Now you can not only carry passengers for profit, but also use taxi stops, pick up chance passengers from the street, use taxi lanes, etc. No, you do not have to be related to a taxi driver, bribe someone, etc. Just meet the requirements and register.

So, what do you call a free market? One where only the price and reputation decides (remember that reputation does not scale very well)? Where first encounter with a service provider is by definition a high risk? Sorry, I actually prefer to know that if I get in a taxi with the official sign, I know that the driver is a professional, knows the city, the car is in a good condition and if anything happens anyway, the insurance will cover it well above the limits set for regular drivers. Or not, but a driver carrying the taxi sign illegaly risks a lot (at least a large fine or even jail time).

Feel free to run your country anyway you like, but please be cautious about telling others that their ways don't make sense. Most choices in like are multicriterial optimisation problems and there is no clear ordering of Pareto-optimal solutions.

Adapt. Enjoy. Survive.

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