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Comment: Re:What's it good for? (Score 1) 236

by bitingduck (#48434473) Attached to: Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

If you need an environment free of vibrations and atmosphere, can't you just park it a foot from the space station? And once the experiment is done, retrieve it?

The added bonus is that if the experiment needs modifications, you have the possibility of doing it in almost real time and send it out again.

It's not that clean an environment around space station. It's more llike the space equivalent of Pigpen from the old Peanuts comics- a station with a cloud of contamination floating along with it. There was a microgravity facility that was very loosely coupled to ISS, but it still has to be coupled so that when the space station maneuvers your things keep up. If you really need microgravity it tends to be easier to make a free flyer and stick it in a higher orbit. The possibility of re-usability is appealing, but it rarely seems to work out to be cost effective for anything large-- the cost of making the stuff is usually much less than the cost of all the testing and verification that it will actually work when it gets there.

Comment: Re:What's it good for? (Score 1) 236

by bitingduck (#48434389) Attached to: Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

The ISS cost $150 billion over 20 years, or about $7.5 billion a year to construct and maintain. The US currently spends about $3 billion a year to keep it going - or about $8 per person. It's not a lot of money. Think about that - watching a movie about space costs more than actually maintaining a real life space station.

The movie analogy is one of my favorites. I like to point out to people that you can send a small rover to Mars for the same cost (or less) than making a couple of really bad movies about sending people there. You can send a large rover for about the cost of a James Cameron extravaganza or two about it.

Comment: Re:What's it good for? (Score 1) 236

by bitingduck (#48434313) Attached to: Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

Consider Philae - if it had landed a few meters in another direction it would still be working. If it had been a manned expedition, that wouldn't have been an issue.

Or they could have included three or four more copies of the lander and still cost less than sending humans. Rosetta has been in space for 10 years-- there aren't going to be humans floating around in tin cans in deep space for that long for a *long* time. At least not live ones.

Or look at the Mars rovers. Great stuff, but there's little ability to improvise. Think up a different experiment you want done? Well, it'll have to wait for the next rover because that one can't do it.

That's not an argument for manned missions so much as an argument to either make things we're sending smaller and more capable or increase our ability to send larger and larger things. A significant portion of the mass you send on a human mission will be just stuff to keep the people alive, limiting the amount of stuff you can send for them to do experiments or massively increasing the cost because you're trying to send a general lab. If you're developing a set of very general lab stuff that humans can take halfway across the solar system, for the foreseeable future (even with significant reductions in cost to orbit) it's going to be less expensive and lower risk to make a robot that operates the lab and feeds it with stuff.

Comment: Re:Stupid, trucks cause the problem (Score 1) 554

by bitingduck (#48395013) Attached to: The Downside to Low Gas Prices

More to the point, think of right fucking now where large swaths of the country are buried in 2' or more of snow. Have fun walking or riding a bike in that. Then just wait for a little later in the winter when there will not only be snow, but pretty damned cold air temps even w/o windchill.

When I was using a bike for primary transportation and we got 3 feet of snow in one day (and another foot the next) the only reliable transportation was bike. I helped push a lot of stuck cars out, only to watch them creep along and get stuck again.

Bike gets stuck? Pick it up and move it. Get to a street that's not plowed? Carry the bike. I went grocery shopping by bike in that mess, and it was *way* better than any other transportation.

Comment: Re:MS Office Incompatibility (Score 1) 170

by bitingduck (#48369151) Attached to: What Happens When Nobody Proofreads an Academic Paper

In LaTeX (and Word for that matter), I always prefix my notes with @@@ because that is a string that nnever occurs in normal text (easoly searchable) and that sticks out visually like a sore thumb.

Percent-sign-prefixed comments ("this needs an update") are much easier to overlook, or even guaranteed to be overlooked during proofreading. At least, I don't proofread my LaTeX markup, but rather the typeset document.

Word actually has a "comment" feature that attaches comments to particular locations in the text, and a flag that lets you show/hide them. It's been there for quite a long time. It works quite well.

Comment: Re:Orbital (Score 1) 443

by bitingduck (#48258391) Attached to: Antares Rocket Explodes On Launch

The NASA centers that buy spacecraft and instruments still do some in-house builds, partly to maintain the skill base so they can be smart buyers. For instruments they tend to build things that are first of a kind. But even in those cases they're part system or instrument integrator, part builder, because nearly all the pieces are purchased from outside shops.

Comment: Re:The essence of enterprise (Score 1) 148

by bitingduck (#48178783) Attached to: Cisco Exec: Turnover In Engineering No Problem

Competition rewards hard work and innovation. The "losers" learn from the "winners" and everyone ends up better off. In your idealized model of "cooperation" there is no way to know what works best and what is worst: you have nothing to compare against and no motivation to become better.

It also rewards lying, cheating, and fraud, which have all increased in science as the competitive pressure (for positions and funding) to publish large volumes of high-impact research in short times has increased.

Comment: Re:The essence of enterprise (Score 3, Insightful) 148

by bitingduck (#48178733) Attached to: Cisco Exec: Turnover In Engineering No Problem

That seems grossly oversimplified. Like most things with humans, it isn't a dichotomy of 'exceptional' and 'ordinary'. Every worker usually has some amount of 'exceptional', and some amount that aligns with what you need them to do, and that amount might be more or less than others performing the same role. And engineering (which is encapsulated by the 'techie' group of Slashdot readers), a field where insight, clarity, work ethic, intelligence, and lateral thinking are major factors of job performance, that 'individual skills' factor matters at least as much as it does with scientists and inventors. Your posts indicate that you might fall into the category of people, as pointed out elsewhere, who don't actually understand what engineers do and instead confuse them with technicians.

Overall an excellent post-- too bad you posted anon so fewer will see it (I don't have mod points).

To expand on the quoted section-- good management of technical people is finding the areas where people are exceptional and putting them into positions where you can best use those skills, and avoiding forcing them into areas where they aren't particularly special or interested interested in becoming so (which will make them unexceptional).

I should also point out that there's a very fuzzy line between "engineer", "scientist", and "inventor" (which you sort of imply, but I'll come out and say it). A very substantial part of many science fields is engineering to make the observation that you're trying to make. And anybody can "invent" something that they need, but it usually takes a bunch of engineering to implement it, much of which gets done by the inventor. Even on a small scale, a significant fraction of engineers have to "invent" things on a small scale on a regular basis.

Comment: Re:Prius (Score 1) 261

by bitingduck (#48037537) Attached to: Which Cars Get the Most Traffic Tickets?

My first thought was that Prius drivers get pulled over for more or less political reasons, because the car is some kind of symbol for left-leaning environmentalism which you would mostly expect runs counter to the expected cop mindset of a right-wing anti-environmentalism.

Or it could be because they're a disproportionate fraction of the cars on the road in California even if most people who drive them are pokey, when you multiply the numbers by the rate, you still get into the top 20. I've seen Toyota lots in LA that look like they're the storage lot at the end of the Prius assembly line-- hundreds of them as far as you can see. On the road, it's pretty rare to not be able to see at least one in your field of view. The C probably made it onto the list because it's more likely to be driven by younger people who aren't hypermiling yet.

Comment: Re:Depending on local ordinances... (Score 1) 488

by bitingduck (#48026599) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

But nothing says *all* your power has to come from the grid. It's entirely possible to switch some circuits of your house off grid with a second panel, or even a single switch that lets the house be connected to the grid or the personal system. The house is still connected to the grid, you just don't pull much off it.

I have a peculiar case of unreliable power from the power company, but not enough roof to make a full grid tie system worth the trouble (trees over the house block most of the sun). I'll eventually get around to putting in about a kW of solar and some batteries that will power my outdoor stuff normally and that is usable for minimal power during outages just by running cables. It's not much more than the cost of a good generator and doesn't require going to get fuel (which could be difficult after an earthquake). A friend of mine has a grid-tie system that switches completely off the grid over to batteries when power goes out.