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Comment Re:Look at the prices (Score 1) 205

Response to your OT thought: It's still probably a net gain, mostly because gas-powered personal vehicles are just horribly inefficient. Consider this: it is more efficient to use the gasoline intended for your vehicle in a full-size gasoline-fueled power plant, generate electricity, send that electricity across power lines across long distances and incur lossage there, store it in a battery, incurring additional lossage, then use that to power an electric vehicle. All of those extra losses are still more efficient than just using the gasoline directly.

Do you have a source for this? I'm not saying it's false, I'm just curious.

a larger TV and such will match the significant difference of reducing the initial consumption by 1/4.

I didn't mean to suggest that buying a single TV would incur that much of an environmental cost. I meant the TV to be an example of increased spending on other things. I.e. if you're not spending money on a car, you might spend the money on more consumer electronics (not just a single TV), more travel, more beef, more furniture, etc. I think you're right that spending money on a car has less environmental impact than spending an equivalent amount of money on most other goods. I'm just saying that the effect of getting rid of the car is tempered by spending money on other things, and production of those other things are not captured in household electricity usage because they are produced outside the household. I.e the trick to reducing your environmental footprint is to buy fewer things in general -- not just spending less on cars.

Comment Re:Look at the prices (Score 1) 205

Sorry for the poor wording. I didn't mean to suggest that the environmental cost of the TV would be its electricity usage. I meant that, given constant income and without the cost of a car, people might put more money into purchasing many new pieces of consumer electronics -- not just a single TV. A. E.g. if you don't have to pay for a car, why not buy a new TV, a new stereo system, a new phone, and a new computer! Likewise for beef. I've seen the statistic that, environmentally speaking, a pound of beef is equivalent to a gallon of gasoline. My thoughts aren't totally abstract. I've been thinking about these questions after seeing friends move to cities. For example, I have two friends who recently moved to a large city and commented how much more beef they eat now. Beef and consumer electronics are only two examples. There could also be increased spending on travel, furniture, etc. Are those captured in your figure about energy consumption? My guess is no, because the energy is expended outside NYC.

I do think spending money on things other than a car is probably a net benefit. However, my point is that the effect is likely tempered because the money is generally spent on other goods. I.e. the trick to reducing your environmental footprint is to buy fewer things in general -- not just spend less on cars. This may be less of an issue in NYC because so much money is spent on rent (which my theory doesn't apply to) that consumption of everything else is cut.

Comment Look at the prices (Score 3, Insightful) 205

Although it's not perfect, money is a decent proxy for environmental harm.* So, if a $100 upgrade will save you $200 in electricity over its lifetime, then the upgrade will probably do more environmental good than harm. However, if a $500 upgrade will save you $100 in electricity, then you're probably doing more harm than good.

* At least for normal consumer goods, the price _roughly_ reflects the amount of energy and resources to manufacture the good, which roughly reflects the environmental harm. It's by no means a perfect metric, but it's a start. Some goods clearly do not fit this model. For example, a painting costs almost no resources to produce but can sell for a high price. Some computer parts are similar. For example, sometimes identical graphics cards are deliberately crippled (lower clock speed, parts of the processor disabled, etc.) just to create different price points. Both cards have the same environmental cost to produce but can have very different sale prices. However, that means the environmental cost is best represented by the cost of the _cheapest_ version. So maybe the aforementioned $500 upgrade really costs $50 to produce and thus has a positive environmental impact.

(Totally off topic: I wonder about the environmental impact of moving to cities. Say you move to a city, sell your car, etc. but your income remains constant; you instead spend money on a new TV, more beef for dinner, etc. Then it's not obvious to me that you're having a significant, positive environmental impact.)

Comment Re: The cost of the ID isn't the $10 (Score 1) 393

That's a good point. File W-2s along with car registration and bank account as things that probably required a photo ID in the first place. That further enhances the catch-22 problem (need an ID to get a certified birth certificate, need a certified birth certificate to get an ID) and makes the problem of getting an ID even worse.

Comment You don't know what will happen! (Score 1) 755

What's with everyone predicting with certainty what will happen? Absolutely none of you know what will happen! The only way to find out is to try it.

Personally, as a moderate with libertarian leanings (although not a true Libertarian), I think it's worth a shot. The fact is that, like it or not, totally getting rid of the state welfare is politically impossible. However, we can make it less of a mess. Instead of having an alphabet soup of government welfare programs (and the bureaucratic overhead to go with it), it's not that crazy to just cut everyone a small check and be done with it. If the plan doesn't work, scrap it. It's hard for me to believe that the world will end (or even be significantly damaged) if we try it for a year. The economy is surprisingly resilient and has survived worse without serious damage.

FWIW, I'm not the only non-liberal with this idea. Here's an argument for basic gauranteed income published by the Cato Institute (Cato Unbound is one of their publications). Here is Charles Murry on the issue. (I'm not the biggest Murray fan, but he's certainly not on the left either.)

Comment The cost of the ID isn't the $10 (Score 5, Insightful) 393

The issue isn't the $10. You don't simply fork over $10 and get an ID; you need some proof of identity, like a _certified_ birth certificate. Don't have one? They're not free either. Moreover, you often need a government issued ID to get a certified birth certificate. That's a bit of a catch-22, right? The solution varies by state. Sometimes you can use a combination of utility bills, W-2s, car registration, bank account, etc. The first requires a permanent residence. The second requires a real job. The latter two probably required a photo ID in the first place. Almost all states allow an attorney to request a certified birth certificate, but attorneys aren't free either. The situation of not having a real job, permanent residence, and certified birth certificate is probably totally foreign to /. users, but there are a non-trivial number of (usually poor) American citizens in that situation, but they still deserve the right to vote.

Now, some states try to avoid this mess. E.g. in WI the non-driver IDs are free if you need one to vote. Also, if you don't have the documentation you need, you can fill out a form and the DMV will take care of everything -- at least in principle. I don't know how well it works; the WI DMV is already stretched kind of thin.

I have mixed feelings about all this. Voter fraud is simply not a problem in the US. (Yes, some idiots filled out fake voter _registration_ forms last election because they were paid to fill out lots of registration forms. That's not voter fraud since no fraudulent votes were cast.) Voter ID laws are there to make life difficult for poor people who tend to vote for Democrats. End of story. What's the upside? Because of the political angle, voter ID laws have lead to organizations assisting poor people to get ID cards. I don't know how effective the organizations have been, but the people who get an ID probably benefit.

Comment Re:No, gas stations will not go extinct soon (Score 1) 904

In 2000, there may be less vehicles. But there were also less gas stations.

False. They were more gas stations then than there are now.

http://www.nacsonline.com/your...

There were 156,065 total retail fueling sites in the United States in 2012. This is a steep and steady decline since 1994, when the station count topped 202,800 sites. (Source: National Petroleum News' MarketFacts 2012)

Comment Nonsense (Score 2) 397

Because a vegan diet that is actually complete is unquestionably harder and more expensive than a non-vegan one.

I'm not a vegan (or a vegetarian), but that's total nonsense. Just because some people make it "harder" (whatever that means) or more expensive doesn't mean it inherently is. Back up you claim. WHY is a vegan diet intrinsically "harder" and more expensive?

Rice and beans make a cheap, complete protein. There are all sorts of vegetable oils for fats (no need for extra virgin olive oil), or eat some peanuts (or real nuts if you want to splurge). You get your carbs from grain/bread/etc. If you can't stand veggies for vitamins, then pop a vitamin pill.

Those are some basics; fill in the blanks on your own.

And they also frequently struggle with malnutrition.

And? Poor people are malnourished because they can't afford to eat. News at 11.

Comment No, gas stations will not go extinct soon (Score 2) 904

the tipping point will come when gas stations, not a massively profitable business, start to go out of business as many more electric cars are sold,

This idea is simply bogus. Here's a good analysis of the argument, but a choice quote sums up the problem with the argument:

Consider that in 2009 there were 246 million motor vehicles registered in the United States. A 10% reduction would be 221 million vehicles but that is how many vehicles there were in 2000.

Gas stations didn't go extinct in 2000 because there were fewer gas vehicles, and they won't do so now. In fact, there are already fewer gas stations now, mostly because gas-powered cars are more efficient. However, no one started yelling tipping point because gas-powered cars became more efficient, an effect which is probably more important than electric vehicles in the foreseeable future. There still so many that the gas-station-tipping-point hypothesis is BS.

Comment The problem is the background (Score 1) 77

I've been trying to write a little piece about my research so that my friends and family (and anyone else who cares) have a better idea what I do (a subfield of solid-state physics). I don't think the concepts are that hard, and the subject is interesting to many people, but the real problem is providing the background.

This is more of a problem in some fields than others. For example, I met an ecologist who researches frogs -- including colorful ones you see in advertisements for Costa Rica. The creatures are eye catching, people know what frogs are, and you'd be sad if something that cool looking was going to be wiped out by an foreign disease. It's a subject people can relate to because almost everyone has some understanding about nature, frogs, and disease, and it's not too hard to fill in enough of the blanks to make a good, informative news article.

The same is not true for solid-state physics. Part of what I need to explain is why my research is new and novel, which is a tall order given people's lack of background. Heck, most people don't even know the difference between silicon and silicone, which are very, very different. It's hard to provide the background without boring everyone to death. I still hope to write my piece, but it sure as heck won't be a popular read.

Comment Apparently cell phones are more distracting (Score 1) 195

I reported some facts, added a little interpretation, and finished with one sentence of speculation. Where did I suggest banning anything?

Surprisingly, you reminded me of something relevant. IIRC, there's evidence that talking on a cell phone (hands free or not) is _more_ distracting than talking to a passenger in the car. (I don't have time to look up sources ATM.) It sounds weird, but it's plausible that interacting with something that's actually in the car is less distracting that paying attention to a disembodied voice. Most of the "distractions" you mentioned aren't interactions in the same way. E.g. you don't have a back-and-forth interaction with a license plate or even a radio; you just look or listen.

Comment Reminds me of hands-free cell phones (Score 4, Interesting) 195

When the dangers of driving while holding a cell phone became clear, many places banned hand-held cellphones while driving but allowed hands-free cell phones. After further research, it seems clear that hand-free cell phones aren't any safer. Even a little distraction can be very dangerous when you need quick reflexes. Minor distractions are particularly dangerous because most of the time you don't need quick reflexes; you're just cruising down the highway -- lulling you into a false sense of security. I'm guessing a HUD causes similar problems.

Comment I disagree (Score 1) 1083

I think the government works too capriciously as is -- because of the inflexibility I mentioned. It seems counter-intuitive, but it wouldn't be the first time that a well-intentioned, strong rule backfired -- causing the rule to be strong in principle but weak in practice (because everyone ignored it).

Passing laws is a real hassle in the US. They have to get a majority of votes in the house, 60% of votes in the Senate, not be vetoed by the president, and not be struck down by the courts -- and that's not even counting hurdles within congress (committees, leadership support, etc.) And you know what? It isn't needed. Many governments operate just fine with a parliamentary system that only has one real legislative body and a judiciary. In fact, well functioning presidential governments are quite rare -- and now we're seeing why.

What's the effect of a screwed up legislative branch in a presidential system? The executive branch taking more power (e.g. Obama's executive order wrt illegal immigration). That's now how it's supposed to work, but sometimes things need to get done, and if the legislative branch sits there, one of the other branches will take its power. In the longrun, it's dangerous. It's exactly the thing the checks and balances (inflexibility) was meant to prevent. Oh well.

Ditto with the constitution. The interstate commerce clause is used as the justification so much federal legislation, but it wasn't meant to be that way. The issue is that the constitution was not written with the needs of a modern government in mind. Rather than update the constitution (which is a pain in the ass), we warp the constitution to fit our -- often legitimate -- purposes. However, once we start bending the meaning of the constitution like that, it stops blocking the bad things it was meant to block.

Like all things, there's a happy medium between to weak and too strong. I just think that we're on the too-strong side.

Every successful person has had failures but repeated failure is no guarantee of eventual success.

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