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Comment: Exploding Rockets vs. Nuclear Power (Score 0) 449

by billstewart (#48424193) Attached to: What Would Have Happened If Philae Were Nuclear Powered?

Once you get the rocket safely out past Earth's orbit, most of us hippies aren't too worried about it.

The problem is getting it there - what percentage of space launches fail? Way more than zero, and we don't want plutonium-powered reactors on an exploding rocket, even if ETGs really are about as safe as you can get for nuclear power generation.

Comment: Re:Not news (Score 2) 134

Candidate Obama gave great, inspiring speeches, but wasn't that good at real-time conversation. (President Obama not so much.) Dubya Bush always looked like a deer in the headlights, amazed that he was getting away with what he said and hoping nobody would ask questions about it.

But the guy who was really good? Bill Clinton. He was always on, always quick thinking, always had a good comeback for anything, lots of fun to listen to. Sure, he was lying through his teeth half the time, but he knew which half it was, and he did it with a smile that said that he knew that you knew he was lying, and that he'd make the game worth playing, and he usually did.

Comment: What we had in the 70s (Score 1) 134

If he's 50, he was born in 1964, so he might have gone to college before Apple II's became widespread. But when I was in high school from 1972-1974, we had time-sharing access to a PDP-11 at the nearby state university (with one teletype shared for the entire school), so by 8 years later it's likely he had something a lot fancier. My wife's high school didn't have that - they used punch cards, which got batch-processed weekly.

I first encountered PLATO in college, and it had Notesfiles (which contributed significantly to the evolution of Usenet, as well as Lotus Notes), and the coolest-ever Star Trek game.

The Almighty Buck

Internet Sales Tax Bill Dead In Congress 257

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-everybody-loves-new-taxes dept.
jfruh writes: Last year, a bipartisan coalition helped get the Main Street Fairness Act approved by the U.S. Senate. The bill would have allowed state and local governments to collect sales taxes on Internet sales by companies in different jurisdictions. But House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime opponent of Internet taxes, won't bring the matter to a vote in the House before the end of the year, which should kill it for the immediate future.

Philae Lands Successfully On Comet 188

Posted by Soulskill
from the amazing-job-folks dept.
The European Space Agency has confirmed that the Philae probe has successfully landed on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and established contact with headquarters. The harpoons have deployed and reeled in the slack, and the landing gear has retracted. (Edit: They're now saying the harpoons didn't fire after all.) There are no photos from the surface yet, but the Rosetta probe snapped this picture of Philae after initial separation, and Philae took this picture of Rosetta. Emily Lakdawalla has a timeline of the operation (cached). She notes that there was a problem with the gas thruster mounted on top of the lander. The purpose of the thruster was to keep the lander on the comet after landing, since there was a very real possibility that it could bounce off. (The comet's local gravity is only about 10^-3 m/s^2.) The pins that were supposed to puncture the wax seal on the jet were unable to do so for reasons unknown. Still, the jet did not seem to be necessary. The official ESA Rosetta site will be continually updating as more data comes back.

Comment: Re:More RAM is easy for A/A+, Faster is Hard (Score 2) 107

by billstewart (#48366561) Attached to: Eben Upton Explains the Raspberry Pi Model A+'s Redesign

In the US, the Pi was $25 for the A (now $20 for A+), and $35 for the B (which is what I actually bought, but this discussion is mainly about the A/A+.) The Beaglebone currently runs $52-55 online, and has 4GB memory instead of 2GB (it was getting hard for them to find 2GB parts), and the processor's been updated a bit since last fall when I looked at it (it's also a newer ARM core than the Pi uses.) The catch is that if you want to do 1920x1280 video, you only get 24Hz, vs. 60 for the Pi, which affects using it as a media platform. (But if you don't care about that, yeah, it's a great deal, especially now that it has more RAM.)

Comment: More RAM is easy for A/A+, Faster is Hard (Score 3, Interesting) 107

by billstewart (#48353239) Attached to: Eben Upton Explains the Raspberry Pi Model A+'s Redesign

The Model A boards have 256MB, the Model B have 512MB. They could have put 512MB in the Model A, but it would have cost them a bit more and they were trying to make it cheaper. (I still wish they'd done it.)

But one reason the board is so cheap is that it's using a System On A Chip that's designed for other applications, not custom for them, so making it faster, or using a newer ARM instruction set, or (apparently) putting more than 512MB on the board would be hard, requiring a major redesign and increasing costs. For instance, the BeagleBone Black costs about twice as much, and while it uses a faster CPU with a newer instruction set, the video processing part is slower, so it's not a total win.

Comment: CowboyNeal! Really!! (Score 1) 551

by billstewart (#48318355) Attached to: In this year's US mid-term elections ...

City council elections here in Mountain View California had a bunch of candidates running, including a guy named Neal, who has posters of himself wearing a cowboy hat. I didn't actually vote for him, but maybe my wife did. (It's a non-partisan "pick 3 of N" election, there were two we liked, one we disliked, and a few in the middle that we picked randomly.)

Comment: Re:California Top-Two Primary (Score 1) 551

by billstewart (#48316047) Attached to: In this year's US mid-term elections ...

Oh, it's much messier than that, though that's usually how I vote. But consider an open-primary system where the Democrat incumbent is running for re-election and you have the option to choose which party's primary to vote in - you know the Democrat incumbent is going to win her party's primary (if there aren't any serious opponents), so the best strategy for the primary is to vote in the Republican primary instead, for the least electable candidate, whether that's a far-right Tea Party challenger or at least the second-tier candidate who doesn't have GOP machine money. That means that in the general election, your favorite candidate is running against a weaker opponent.

Gaming top-two is much trickier; there are more unstable ways to go wrong, but a lot of it has to do with the candidates' supporters spending money on various people from all parties in the primary.

Comment: Making ballot access harder (Score 1) 551

by billstewart (#48315851) Attached to: In this year's US mid-term elections ...

I didn't know they'd done that, but I can't say I'm surprised. Another thing that's going to hit all the third parties is maintaining ballot access, since the main thing that's kept them on the ballot is vote count in the governor's or other state-wide races, and none of us are getting them this year. It's also possible to get party status by getting enough registered voters, but I don't know if any of California's third parties meet that threshold.

Comment: California Top-Two Primary (Score 4, Interesting) 551

by billstewart (#48306513) Attached to: In this year's US mid-term elections ...

California recently imposed a hopelessly annoying new voting system - instead of per-party primaries, and a general election in the fall, all the candidates for a partisan seat get thrown into one ballot, and the top two candidates move on to the general election. This means that in a heavily Democrat district, you might end up with two Democrats in the general election (but the Republican voters get to pick the one they object to least instead of voting for a Republican who's guaranteed to lose.) That happened in a few Congressional and assembly districts this year, and I think there's one Republican-vs-Republican race in southern California.

For third parties, this is terrible - it means that third-party candidates are almost never going to get into the general election, which means they won't be able to get enough general-election votes to keep ballot status after a few years. You might have an exception like a Democrat and a Green in a liberal district (though that didn't happen this time), but most of us kept ballot status by getting a moderate percentage of votes for governor or minor offices like Secretary of State. And for the major parties, it's also possible to game the system, e.g. helping a couple of minor Democrats split their parties ballot to get your Republicans in, or Democrats voting for the craziest Tea Party candidate so the Democrat can easily beat them in the fall.

So while I'm a Libertarian, I had to split my ticket between mostly Democrats and one or two Republicans. On the other hand, in the primary, there were several offices for which we didn't have a Libertarian candidate, and I voted for one or two Greens and at least one Occupy person; Silicon Valley is strongly enough Democrat I saw no reason to give thm

Comment: Firefox was improving Netscape (Score 1) 88

by billstewart (#48306439) Attached to: Firefox OS Coming To Raspberry Pi

It sounds like you're saying that the free software world suddenly decided to invent Firefox as a competition for IE. Firefox was Netscape freeing the source code for the Netscape browser so the open source community could improve it, and people continuing to improve it over the years. IE was Microsoft's attempt to kill Netscape and particularly to kill browser standardization, because the increasing move to HTML as a universal user interface for applications was threatening to make the operating system irrelevant. Imagine AOL shipping a CD with Linux, Netscape, and AOL, letting you use your slightly older PC, and letting you use AOL for your mail instead of some Microsoft product.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein