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Comment: The problem is SUPPLY CHAIN!!! (Score 5, Interesting) 365 365

The current state of complexity of our civilization is given by a web of supply chains that make it possible to produce very specialized and sophisticated products.
Liquid fuel production requires more than extracting oil from the ground, you have to distill the fractions, filter unwanted contaminants, crack heavy fractions to produce lighter compounds, and do pyrolysis to get gasoline from what is essentially tar.
This all requires a supply chain of materials to be able to construct the tools and equipments to produce what you'll pump into your car.

Then there are fertilizers, you needs sources of fossilized guano that are located around the world, and others like Ammonia based fertilizers that are mostly produced using fossil fuel sources.
Then you have catalyzer metals for reactors, the list is enormous...
And if you think that since the trade barriers have mostly gone, that has meant that most countries have shed duplicate capacity and have specialized and concentrated on only some parts of the supply chain.
That means if things go downhill you pretty much have no way to get some resources, tool or equipment spares and no knowledge how to remake those.

Comment: It is called sexual selection (Score 2) 298 298

There are two big drivers on the evolution of sexual species, natural selection and female choice.
The two don't always go in the same direction, and in some cases they can point into opposing paths leading the species into a dead end.
For example Elks compete on antler size, and females prefer large males with big antlers, these are good when it comes to ritual fights with competing males but are a big drawback when it comes to denser wood forests. And most of the time are a large dead weight to carry around.
Peacocks also carry around a big tail for basically the same reasons, and both are examples of adverse selection in which an overall negative trait gets perceived as a positive genetic proxy by females.

Height in humans has a big weight when it comes to female selection, it is considered by large as a positive trait. And we usually tend to defer to taller people, even if that behavior isn't justified on any other social attributes.
The problem with height is that it requires extra consumption of calories and protein to enable growth, besides extra changes in the population hormonal profile to enable accelerated growth. This is all fine on our present food production output, if that changes taller people are at a disadvantage.

Comment: Re:That's unchecked capitalism for you (Score 1) 516 516

Not only that, investing in the electrical grid it is always expensive in any western country. Zoning, environmental, licensing, technical regulations, and the nimby effect, all will add up to the cost. Even if it is just upgrading existing infrastructure it is not easy peasy, and building new grid infrastructure can be hampered by local sensibilities.

From the technical standpoint adding new grid capacity adds also more nonlinearities in the grid system that need to be managed. And, high power electrical systems are difficult beasts to control, it is not like in star trek that one can freely route power through any circuit without regard for transitory effects that can shutdown parts or all of the grid.

From the business standpoint, I think it depends on the business culture. In Europe, non-english speaking countries will invest on its grid infrastructure more regularly ,France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, etc... invested recently or are investing in their grid systems. In the UK and Ireland, it is mostly anecdotal evidence, but it seems they are quite happy to not invest in infrastructure as long it still works.

And, another thing, competition doesn't work on grid systems cause they are a natural monopoly. You cannot have two different grid providers, duplicating that type of infrastructure it is very expensive and difficult to justify. Plus, technically having to manage two grids into a local grid, and have power plants outputting for separate power circuits seems a recipe for more problems.

Comment: Re:Bell Labs (Score 2) 150 150

There is probably something of a myth of people being paid to have great ideas, most research started as a means to sort out a particular problem that branched into a new field by chance. People didn't intended to have great ideas they ended up stumbling on them, either by doing their work, luck or by having a particular keen interest and curiosity.
On the side of the status quo, researchers are only valuable if they are coming up with work that can have some usefulness.
This might be a statement of status of having a bunch of researchers as pets, to sort out a nagging problem like getting a reliable star chart for navigation, or that there is a conflict and every edge one can get is essential.
For example, the people that came up with C and Unix didn't told management what they were up to initially.

Comment: Re:Maybe I imagined it... (Score 1) 387 387

That Linus is not infallible, even if he has a lot of merit and has on the overall done a good job.

I am arguing for experimentation, and that ideas need to be tested and that there is a need for safe environments to do so.
Cause otherwise systems get stale, and eventually cease to evolve.

I understand a manager has to be pragmatic within the context of the project, and Linus is a pragmatist.
The thing is, nobody has a magical crystal ball to predict what set of changes has more chance of having a bigger impact.
Also, organizational, social, cultural and political factors can have a perverse effect on the kind contributions outsiders can do.

I think, that people usually try to contribute within the institutions/organizations that they feel identified with.
So, they will try to be accepted and validated through the official channels, until they get tired.

Comment: Re:Maybe I imagined it... (Score 1) 387 387

Does every refusal makes sense in hindsight?

Or all refused Ideas would result in failure?

History is full of good ideas being refused, why would Linus be right all the time or anyone else for that matter?

Cause any of the contributors that got rejected haven't made a successful competing project, so that makes Linus right only because there is no proof of him being wrong?

If a previously untested Idea doesn't get adopted, implemented and widely used there is no way to question the objective validity of a particular decision or judgement. After it comes into the mainstream or fails to yield results it is easy to do so.
I find that most people are very closed minded, and usually stick with what they know. And, having university degree doesn't help, cause curiosity doesn't come as a course subject and can't be taught, in some cases it makes things worse.
Also, social and group elements enter in the mix, making it very difficult for outsiders to be taken seriously.

Some examples:
- Ross Perot left IBM to start EDI, so that he could implement a business model he wasn't allowed to do in IBM.
- Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis on hand washing and newborn death, facing the medical establishment at the time.
- Douglas Engelbart pionering a lot of the items and concepts we now take for granted, that were mostly ignored by the industry until others picked up at a later stage.
... and so many others....

Comment: Re:hm... (Score 0) 143 143

Let's see how much buoyancy does the balloon needs to support an electrical generator, plus support the weight of the cables which have to conduct electricity and support mechanical loads. These cables need to be insulated and the insulation must also support part of the mechanical forces involved without breaking down. Most power cables are under static load, and have regular supports. The cable needs to be stronger than the usual power cables , lighter or otherwise the balloon will have issues staying at the optimal height.

Comment: Well... (Score 4, Insightful) 301 301

People like good salesmen not people that work in unknown office spaces, regardless of their contributions.
A public image is the luxury of those who don't have to labour, and so can afford to put their efforts into selling their ideas and themselves.
Dennis Ritchie was a giant within his tribe, RIP.

Comment: Duh... (Score 1) 202 202

You'll need to use less complex rockets and systems to haul fuel to depots, and since it's carrying only compact cargo costs by weight decrease also.

Big rocket systems are expensive and require lots of safeguards to handle human beings, or everyone would be killed or injured by the intense g-forces or by strong vibrations. Plus, space crafts that transport astronauts usually have lower density, so the cost by weight lifted increases.

The downside is, that there isn't that much experience in operating logistical infrastructure in space. Everything is a throwaway product, and the current space station is a joke as a science platform. And there is the nagging question of why maintaining such infrastructure just for human space flight if we don't have any other use for it?...

Comment: Re:Honorable Mention (Score 1) 405 405

I read the articles, and it seems to me this is a usual FUBAR on such projects.

- It starts with a long mission statement, hailing a new vision, and very ambitious targets to be met.
- The usual outsourcing suspects... i mean experts, are hired, their past performance on big projects isn't put into question.
- The development teams are enormous, political squirmishes abound between managers.
- Unusual and cruel specs documents, lots of red tape to be implemented that is written in obscure language, and keeps getting worse as new laws and procedures appear everyday and have to be implemented as well.
- Milestones for project deliveries are set with few grasp of the project risks and complexity, and functionality expectations are set too high.
- Feature creep!!!... need i say more...
- Loss of management focus, large projects need a clear leadership that can be an effective buffer between the political leadership and the several development teams, usually it's not the case. Top managers in public IT projects are part of the political establishment themselves and not very aware of the complexities of large IT projects.
- Mind the end user, there is always a tendency for the political leadership and the top public officials to remove those pesky and ungrateful operations personnel from giving input on the functional analysis and making suggestions. These ivory tower escapades from the people that are removed and out of touch with the operations environment are an important reason for delays in project adoption and eventual failure.
- People expect it to have everything and the kitchen sink, because these projects are sold to the public in such hyperbolic fashion so that naturally disappointment and loss of credibility ensues.
- And to top it all, these projects are an excellent opportunity for all kinds of top public officials and politicians to complicate matters even more by adding more complicated layers of procedures and requirements on to already complex public services. Bureaucrats get a field day imagining all kind of situations and having the opportunity to get their fantasies come true.

IMHO most public IT projects have been pointing to an ever bigger centralization, this fits the profile of the increasing control freaks that run for office in many western countries. And get very well with the already control freak leaning public officials.
Although the end purposes are well meaning, the project can drift from helping to reduce time spent on paper work and faster information access, to increased time spent in ever bigger requirement forms, over complex forms and slow interfaces due to poor implementation. Sometimes the top brass is more worried with "bling" reports to show work done and require even more information to be put into the system.

Any cost cutting done by IT projects can be only evaluated after it's been deployed over several months or years, and only if it has been a tool for operational changes and restructuring (less personnel, more medical procedures, less waste, increased effectiveness). I'm a bit cynical about that, since public sector takes a lot of time to change it's ways, and the usual political driven metrics end up messing any good work that has been done (like the amount of time an hospital bed is occupied and to minimize it patients are sent home early).
And for politicians gaining elections and maintaining some political credibility is more important than having the work done, the appearance of success is more than enough until someone leaks the bad news to the press.

Seems to me that outsource companies should be subjected to more oversight while working in a project, if i had an euro for every story that i heard of a outsource company manager making an high risk decision and completely derailing a project i would be rich.
Some consulting companies breed highly ambitious people, although thats not bad by itself, the urge to get promoted fast and achieve an higher status can make people liable to gamble with the odds when a more conservative approach would get better results.

Having friends working in public sector IT projects i have seen how frustrated they get when they try to achieve a moving target spec, after completing an implementation just to know that the laws governing that system completely changed and are more obscure to interpret.

Why did the Roman Empire collapse? What is the Latin for office automation?