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Comment: Re:If he sold phyiscal copies (Score 1) 266

by jfengel (#47731111) Attached to: 33 Months In Prison For Recording a Movie In a Theater

The problem is that it takes thousands of man hours to produce a movie

Hundreds of thousands, actually. Millions, in some cases. High-end movies are enormous affairs. Each of those hundreds of names in the credits got $20-$50 per hour (less for the interns) for one to two months of full time work (and often with a fair bit of overtime). It's an insane amount of work, but it's the difference between a cutesy indie film (which will still take several thousand man hours) and the real slick look of a big Hollywood movie.

Comment: Re:How would the money be split? What's the incent (Score 1) 523

by jfengel (#47723091) Attached to: Study: Ad-Free Internet Would Cost Everyone $230-a-Year

I think it's more useful to think of the number as a quantification of how much that advertising is worth: that's the amount of money operators are depending on (one way or the other) to keep providing what they're providing.

How you actually get it to them is a whole different question. They've talked about micropayments and subscription models and other things, but ads have the nice characteristic of requiring zero overhead for the viewer. There's nothing to install; you "pay" just by having it on your screen. Whether it's actually worth it to the advertiser is insanely difficult to say, but they are (at least for the moment) actually forking over the money.

Everybody would love a more precise system, where you pay for the page views that are of interest to you, but that shifts the burden from millions-of-site-operators to billions-of-viewers, and they're all incensed about having to "pay" for something they were previously getting for "free". People keep trying things, but it comes as no surprise to me that for a lot of side, throwing a few basic ads onto the page for pennies-per-thousand-impressions is the easiest way to monetize their effort, at least for the vast array of small sites.

Big sites (like Slashdot) can do better, because the economies of scale make it worth the overhead to try to get money from viewers, and maybe some day we'll get that packaged down to a point where other sites can get it. But since the total sum of money is pretty substantial, I think a lot of viewers will say, "I hate ads, but I hate paying even more."

Comment: Re:Growing pains. (Score 4, Insightful) 222

I gather that there is a countervailing trend, in the form of reformers in the government. China's version of "communism" is pretty far removed from anything visualized by the early social theorists, and it was plagued by a lot of outright insanity for decades, but it always had collectivism at its core. Mao was one of the great mass-murderers of history, but he wasn't corrupt, merely deranged.

I wouldn't call it a benevolent dictatorship, but I was put in mind of it by your mention of the unelected senators. They still had to campaign; it's just that they ended up stumping on behalf of the legislators-cum-electors. The most prominent example was the Lincoln-Douglas debates: they were running for the Senate but really trying to get legislators to vote for their party. It meant that national issues often trumped local issues, and the state legislature suffered for it.

My point there is that democracy, while important, isn't a cure-all. It's inherently adversarial, a conflict which has notably ground today's national legislature to a standstill. Even popularly-supported reforms get no traction, much less anything with even a whiff of controversy. And it's too inflexible to stop the largest discretionary component of our budget from pumping many billions to the military-industrial complex: I don't buy the theory that they're manufacturing wars for it, but even without that kind of explicit corruption it's still not as responsive as you'd like to imagine a directly-elected legislature should be.

I'm not an expert in China's structure, but I wouldn't count them out just because they're unfamiliar. Certainly the system is ripe for corruption, and they do need to fix it, but they have managed to reform themselves already even under one-party control. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here. There's much to do.

Comment: Re:Ask about everything (Score 1) 53

by jfengel (#47714409) Attached to: How To Read a Microbiome Study Like a Scientist.

The Faustian bargain there is that they're not supposed to be expressing any specific purposes. If you're categorizing your product as a "supplement" you have to avoid making specific health claims. It generally says so, right on the package, via the incantation "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease".

Generally in very, very tiny print. In much larger print, they'll hint strongly that it's good for something (often, something fairly vacuous). It's on the FDA to judge when it crosses the line into a medical claim, and they don't have anywhere near the kind of manpower it takes to evaluate the multi-billion-dollar market. It took an outside organization to sue the makers of Airborne, via the FTC, for false advertising rather than a violation of the more specific FDA rules.

So yeah, there are rules about dietary supplements, but they're badly flouted. They walk right up to the line, or even cross right over it, and rely on people's gullibility to make the jump to believe that these worthless products do anything.

Comment: Re:Not just microbiome studies (Score 1) 53

by jfengel (#47713921) Attached to: How To Read a Microbiome Study Like a Scientist.

Yep, came here to say that. And since effectively every daily news story on any science subject fails to answer any of them, it would be a pretty good heuristic to simply ignore all of them.

Newspapers and TV news are designed to sell news today, and to sell you news again tomorrow. Science doesn't turn out news on a daily basis like that. Important results take a very long time from first inkling to confirmation. You won't be able to act on that news today at any rate. Wait until the news comes out in a source like Science News or Scientific American, when it's got at least a few days worth of evaluation and consideration under its belt. Everything that comes out more frequently than that is going to be just plain rubbish the overwhelming majority of the time. And you'll hear about the stuff that isn't rubbish plenty quickly enough.

Comment: Re:I am skeptical (Score 1) 169

The IPCC report does discuss what happens if we don't, and it's more than enough to call for some kind of measures. A proper outcome of geoengineering studies will treat that as the control: "This is what we get if we do nothing... this is what we get if we just control carbon output... this is what we get if we apply technique X/Y/Z".

It's just that measuring "this is what we get" is really hard. Temperature is the easiest to predict (and even that is proving aggravatingly difficult on scales smaller than multiple decades), but it's not the only factor. And we need to take ALL of the effects into account to judge what's going to be most cost-effective.

I'm really just asking for somebody to make the case as clearly as possible. A comment downthread told me "Oh, you just throw a bunch of water into the air, and the clouds will fix it." I *know* it's not that simple; it's obvious that a lot isn't being taken into account.

Unfortunately, most conversation about climate change is dominated by the just-plain-stupidity of denialism, rather than getting to ask the hard questions. I want them to be asked, though I'm also sadly fatalistic: denialism has pushed us, as you have said, past the point the ship has sailed. I end up thinking of this as largely academic, and by the time it comes to be implemented it'll be much too late to help. But we're going to do the research anyway. I'm just hoping it will come with enough of the right answers to be compelling to those prepared to understand it.

Comment: Re:not true at all (Score 1) 133

by jfengel (#47707349) Attached to: FarmBot: an Open Source Automated Farming Machine

Even if it's produced with zero human labor, the price isn't going to be free. There already is practically zero human labor in the actual growing of food. The process is heavily automated already. The consumer price is dominated by the various middle men (distributors, shippers, retailers, etc.) The actual farmer receives less than a dime for each dollar you spend. Far, far less for prepared foods.

If you're willing to cook, you can buy more than enough raw ingredients to feed yourself quite well, for well under a dollar a day. And very little of that money goes to the farmer himself; you're mostly paying to get the food from the farmer to your local outlet, and then to you.

I personally wouldn't mind if MORE people had to get into farming. There are downsides to that massively automated farming: increased pesticide use, large amounts of fossil fuels, soil loss, lack of variety, etc. I'm just fine with subsidizing the food for those people who can't work, or even don't wish to: the raw materials end up costing practically nothing already, at least at the farm itself. But if people want to work... and many do... I think that more labor-intensive agriculture has some advantages.

Comment: Re:Webcast (Score 2) 63

by jfengel (#47705007) Attached to: Adam Carolla Settles With Podcasting Patent Troll

It sounds to me as if he's pulling a switch in the middle of his argument. He didn't spend $1.6 million on the "episodic content" part. He spent the money on the playing device, which may have been noble and good, but he got his lunch eaten. (Not even by Apple. If it was a "cassette tape product", then it wasn't wireless and had less space than a Nomad.)

I'm sorry his product failed, but it seems like a reach to claim priority on the obvious parts of it. And I have even less sympathy when he's dragging in unrelated expenses to try to justify it.

Comment: Re:I am skeptical (Score 1) 169

My concern isn't cost, but the knock-on effects. What else happens when you spray a crapton of water into the atmosphere? Where will rain increase, and where decrease? Is there a risk of disastrous flooding? Will the reduction in visible light throw off animal behavior? Or plant growth cycles?

If all we had to worry about was a few degrees of warming, climate change wouldn't be that big a deal. It's the fact that it has so many other effects, different ones in different parts of the planet. It worries me to think of a "simple" solution to a complex problem. I'm sure that the engineers have it worked out better than you've just described, but I want to know how deeply they've considered it, and that they've got reason to think that they're not flapping the wings of the world's largest butterfly, if you take my meaning.

Comment: I am skeptical (Score 2, Insightful) 169

I'm skeptical about the ability of geoengineering to solve the problems created by climate change. The climate is chaotic: obviously in its form as weather, but longer-term as well. Is it going to be possible at all to un-stir that pot?

Climate effects of CO2 go well beyond the change in temperature. It also acidifies the ocean, to the detriment of the life there. It also shifts weather patterns: even if we manage the temperature of the globe on average, it won't fix the alternations made to rainfall patterns and local temperatures, which will affect plant and animal life and require changes (perhaps drastic) to the way farming is done. I worry that geoengineering would fight global warming but cause even more climate change.

I guess we won't know if we don't do the research, but it concerns me that it could be seen as "Don't worry, we'll just put everything back, so go ahead and dig up that last ounce of fossil fuel." Even if the geoengineering approach can do more good than harm, it doesn't let us off the hook to produce less carbon, which will mitigate the damage. And we're having a hard enough time getting anything done on that score without adding a new phase to climate change denialism: "We can fix it."

Comment: Re:My 0.02 (Score 1) 456

by jfengel (#47685689) Attached to: Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases

I imagine they swap trolling stories and then go off to see if they can tag-team somebody.

One characteristic of a troll, I've found, is that they generally have the thick skins they claim that other people should have. They're often relatively privileged people who aren't threatened by much. There's little point in one troll trolling another, though I've seen it happen.

Comment: Re:Doesn't that come with another problem? (Score 1) 94

by jfengel (#47680589) Attached to: World's Fastest Camera Captures 4.4 Trillion Frames Per Second

The scale they're trying to capture is far smaller than that: they want to capture molecules moving in a chemical reaction. They're moving much, much less than a millimeter.

The speed of light isn't the problem there. The entire frame comes in to them at the speed of light, just as in an ordinary camera. The trick is being able to capture this frame and move on to the next one, which they do with a very clever beam-splitting setup. (I haven't gotten all the details yet, but I gather that it's like sending the light beams to multiple cameras at once, each of which takes a very, very short image at a very, very precisely calibrated time. And it doesn't actually have a trillion cameras; it takes frames at that rate, but only a few of them, one per camera.)

Comment: Re:still (Score 1) 456

by jfengel (#47679807) Attached to: Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases

And ya know, it may come to that. Not the sack of oranges, per se, but the fact that they have a physical body may one day be a part of social media. I could see a form of authentication arising where you have to present your physical body to an authority to get an account.

That has obvious applications in financial matters, where you can say "Yes, this is indeed the person who has the authority to withdraw money or take loans". But it may also be part of social media: if I can limit access to accounts that I could conceptually beat with a sack of oranges, then I can dismiss somebody intent on trolling and limit their opportunities to try again. I can even use reputation to bar them before they've said even a single word to me.

Facebook already wants to be the world's single-sign-on. I could see them, or somebody else, making that much more serious.

Comment: Re:My 0.02 (Score 1) 456

by jfengel (#47679745) Attached to: Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases

This is true: trolls don't go away. But it's also not effective to engage them directly, either. It merely gives them another opportunity to attack. It never ends well for you; you cannot win.

You can't beat a bully, but you can simply resign yourself to their existence, and seek out media where you can limit their access to you. The balance of power there is tense, because the war of arms escalates, and in the end they will always find a way to be heard. You can only hope they'll move on to a more rewarding target; for celebrities (even involuntary ones), that may not be possible. That does inflict emotional injury, but the obvious response will not cure the injury. You simply have to take it as fact and try to deal with it.

Comment: Re:Not Government (Score 1) 456

by jfengel (#47679643) Attached to: Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases

Posts unless extremely well explained will get modded down to troll

And there, I think, is the rub. If you have a point to make that runs substantially counter to conventional wisdom, you'd better be prepared to have it very well worked out.

A lot of non-down-modded posts aren't particularly well-written, either, and it's entirely possible for basic pap drivel to be upvoted simply for pandering. But it's relatively easy to ignore such things while looking for something that actually is insightful. For me, at least, it's a different experience from things designed to upset me: they DO upset me, and that's not as easily dismissed. That's my weakness, perhaps, but it's real, and common.

It's my belief that an unorthodox but valid idea will eventually find a voice that can express it well, and that when that happens, it will be considered. Until then, I'm willing to take the risk that if an idea is widely disbelieved AND badly expressed, it's probably because it's wrong. Given my limited time to spend looking at web sites, it seems the best strategy.

If it means I'm not the first one to hear about some brilliant idea or nugget of news, that's actually OK with me. I know that there are others who have more time and patience, and so I have no time or patience for people who insist that the sole reason they're being modded down is because they're unpopular. They need to seriously consider the possibility that they're wrong, and one strong clue to that is an inability to phrase the argument cogently, in a way that resists easy dismissal.

One way to make your old car run better is to look up the price of a new model.