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Comment: Re:Tricky to count costs in government projects (Score 1) 200

by flyingsquid (#48000845) Attached to: Why India's Mars Probe Was So Cheap
The various costs of supporting the research- building maintenance, electricity, IT, support staff, administration etc. etc. etc., are collectively called "overhead" and they are most definitely taken into account by NSF in a grant proposal. Say a research grant costs $100,000 in terms of the direct expenses of the research for equipment and personnel time, and then the research university bills the NSF an additional 50-60% of that for overhead, so $150,000-$160,000. If a research university is pulling in a lot of research grants, a decent chunk of the operating budget of that university is paid for in the form of overhead fees.

Comment: Re:Funny (Score 2) 259

by flyingsquid (#47982503) Attached to: Obama Presses China On Global Warming

it would be a good plan to try to implement that growth with CO2-neutral technologies, rather than build more coal plants.

The whole "coal plants or carbon-neutral" is a false dilemma, and not really helpful to reducing C02. Few technologies are really carbon-neutral. I mean, if you buy a bunch of solar panels and stick them on the roof, OK, they don't emit any C02. But they're manufactured in China using power that is primarily generated by coal, so you're helping to add C02 to the atmosphere. Likewise, if you build a hydroelectricity plant, odds are the machinery used to build it is all fueled by diesel, and the concrete produces a huge amount of C02. So it's not really accurate to split things into carbon-neutral and not-carbon-neutral. Everything has a carbon footprint, it's just a question of how big that is.

The flip side of this is that even though all fossil fuels release carbon, not all fossil fuels are created equal. Coal is really, really dirty. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel and still releases C02 into the atmosphere, but it's far more efficient, so it produces a lot less C02 for every megawatt of power generated. So the quickest, easiest way for China to reduce C02 emissions is to start building a bunch of gas-fired electricity generation plants, and decommission their old coal-fired plants. This would of course also go a long way towards improving their air quality. Of course, to get all this gas, they're probably going to need to resort to fracking. This is how the United States has managed to bring down C02 emissions- fracking has brought down the price of gas, so power plants have increasingly switched over to gas, reducing C02 emissions.

Comment: Re:The whole article is just trolling (Score 5, Insightful) 793

by flyingsquid (#47965385) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything
The article is kind of dumb. It's some guy who isn't a scientist and who doesn't really understand the scientific method arrogantly bitching about how everybody else doesn't really understand the scientific method. He argues that science is "the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation", but that's a really narrow, limited way of viewing science, because historical processes aren't open to controlled experiments. Evolution, the history of the planet, the origins of the universe... you can't really run experiments to determine what happened, so by this rather narrow definition, paleontology, geology, and cosmology aren't really science at all. So do we reject the findings of Darwin, reject plate tectonics, reject hypotheses on the origins of the universe as unscientific?

I mean, it's not like you can run an experiment to determine if the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid... I mean, what would that involve? Creating planets and populating them with dinosaurs, Jurassic-Park style, and then bombarding them with asteroids? Even if it were possible, it wouldn't really prove anything except whether the mechanism is feasible, it wouldn't determine whether that was actually what happened or not. So you can't really use an experiment.

What you CAN do is make predictions based on that hypothesis, and then make observations to see if the predictions are borne out. For one, you should see evidence of asteroid impact, things like iridium, shock-deformed quartz, microtektites, an impact crater, maybe even a tiny fragment of the asteroid itself... and in fact, after 30 years of looking, every single one of those things showed up, so we're pretty confident there was a giant asteroid impact. For another, you predict that the extinctions coincide with that impact if the impact caused them. And when you look at really abundant microfossils, stuff like fossil plankton and pollen, you can trace the Cretaceous stuff right up to the iridium layer that is the debris field, and then these species vanish forever. So the observations of geology, geochemistry, and paleontology are all consistent with predictions. The same process is used to test other hypotheses about historical processes, such as continental drift, or natural selection, or the formation of the solar system.

That's the *actual* scientific method. It's testing hypotheses against observation. Controlled experiment may or may not come into it at all.

Comment: Re:So.... (Score 1) 94

by flyingsquid (#47898765) Attached to: Drone-Based Businesses: Growing In Canada, Grounded In the US

The U.S. needs to move aggressively to keep drone development on par with that of Canada. You see, the eventual uprising of the machines is inevitable. Artificial Intelligence will continue to grow in speed, sophistication, and integration with our infrastructure. It is predetermined that eventually the machine intelligences will spread virally, achieve self-awareness, then exhibit self-preservation and rise up to exterminate their creator species. We cannot change that- we have already gone too far to turn back.

But there's one thing we still have the power to change. Ask yourself. When those robotic eliminator drones speak to you, and tell you to lay down your pathetic weapons in exchange for a quick death instead of being dissected alive, and when they then command you to the rendering vats to be boiled down for biofuel for their harvester drones... do you want those hideously cold, metallic voices to speak to order you to your doom in a Canadian accent... or an AMERICAN one?

Comment: Re:Congressional Pharmaceutical Complex (Score 4, Insightful) 217

by flyingsquid (#47792717) Attached to: States Allowing Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Painkiller Deaths
The War on Drugs has been a failure- it's put millions of people in prison, cost our society billions of dollars, and fueled honest-to-God warfare in South America and Mexico- and Americans are slowly starting to realize this. That being said, I think we're running the risk of having things swing too far in the other direction. There seems to be this attitude out there that pot is harmless, and that's just not the case in my experience. In moderation, it's probably safe. But chronic use- long term use at high doses- seems to really fuck people up. I know people from high school who used to smoke once in a while, and they're fine- productive members of society, good spouses, good parents, etc. I also know people who went on to smoke weed daily for many years... and they're just not all there anymore. They're always in a pretty good mood, but it seems disconnected from what's going around. They're hard to connect to, they can't seem to empathize with other human beings, they seem scattered and their thought processes tend to run wild; there's a lot of creativity but they lack the focus to do anything with it. The PSAs were right: drugs DO fry your brain.

I think alcohol and Prohibition are a good parallel here. Prohibition was clearly a disaster, and when used in moderation, alcohol is harmless and probably even beneficial. But long-term, daily use of alcohol in high volumes can really screw you up. All things in moderation. Just because you can't OD on pot doesn't mean it's safe to take as much as you want as long as you want.

Comment: Re:Send in the drones! (Score 1) 848

by flyingsquid (#47780357) Attached to: Russian Military Forces Have Now Invaded Ukraine

Putin is doing everything 100% right (this article about invasion is total BS by the way). He is staying out of direct conflict, while supporting the rebels.

Explain how invading and annexing the Crimea is 'staying out of direct conflict'. Even Putin eventually got to the point where he couldn't deny they were Russian troops and keep a straight face, and admitted his Little Green Men were in fact Russian military. And explain how Russian troops, captured on Ukrainian soil, are 'staying out of direct conflict'. Russia doesn't even deny they're Russian troops. And explain why NATO satellites have caught Russian artillery on Ukrainian soil and that's not 'direct conflict'. And last of all, explain how Russian SA-11 surface-to-air-missiles shooting down Ukrainian aircraft and a civilian airliner is 'staying out direct conflict'. A SAM battery is a complex system, not the kind of thing where you can just pick up the instruction manual, and they're typically operated by a team. How would a popular uprising find a trained crew for a SAM battery? The Ukrainian military doesn't even use the SA-11, so the only place to get a trained crew is from Russia.

Comment: Re:Send in the drones! (Score 1) 848

by flyingsquid (#47780177) Attached to: Russian Military Forces Have Now Invaded Ukraine

We don't need to send "boots on the ground"; just help Ukrainian defenders with weapons.

It's not even clear that the issue is weapons. This isn't 1980s Afghanistan we're talking about. Ukraine is a former member of the USSR and was within spitting distance of NATO, so they're armed with fighter and attack aircraft, helicopter gunships, transport aircraft, artillery, armored personnel carriers, etc. etc. The Ukrainian military clearly has issues that have nothing to do with armaments- early on in the conflict, a group of soldiers simply surrendered their armored personnel carriers without a shot being fired, so there are major issues with leadership, discipline, morale, and organization. This is where U.S. military advisors could play a key role, and the U.S. has sent advisors over there, and presumably they're offering intelligence support such as satellite photos as well. The fact that the Ukrainian army is getting its shit together may be related to this. The fact that Russia has kept escalating the situation is in fact evidence that it's working; if the rebels were doing well against the government, they wouldn't need to intervene.

But the charlatan-in-chief would not even send Ukrainians the perfectly defensive helmets and body armor

This is just misleading. The US has sent body armor and night vision goggles. Perhaps more importantly, the West has committed $27 billion in aid to Ukraine over the next two years. With that kind of financial backing, they can simply buy whatever equipment they need.

Comment: Re:Send in the drones! (Score 5, Interesting) 848

by flyingsquid (#47779807) Attached to: Russian Military Forces Have Now Invaded Ukraine
There is a saying, attributed to Napoleon, 'never get in the way of your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself'. Putin may score points at home by annexing the Crimea and invading Ukraine. Internationally, however, Russia moving towards becoming a pariah state, like Iran, North Korea, or Libya under Qaddafi. He's invaded and annexed part of his neighbor, shot down a civilian airliner, imprisoned political opponents, clamped down on free speech and murdered journalists, criminalized having a different sexual orientation. If the long-term goal is to politically isolate Russia, to help contain Russian influence like during the Cold War, well, Putin is doing a fantastic job of it.

War has been called "politics by other means". Putin has launched this war because he is desperate not to let the Ukraine fall into the Western political sphere- probably the best analogy would be the way the U.S. got defensive about having communist governments in Cuba and Central America. At best, he'll manage to carve off the eastern edge of Ukraine to create some tiny, pro-Russian buffer states. In the process of gaining this territory, Russia will isolate itself and its political sphere of influence will shrink. Putin will never give up power, and the West will never trust him again, so we could be looking at another 10-25 years of this sort of behavior, before eventually someone succeeds him and tries to normalize relations with the West.

Comment: Re:Send in the drones! (Score 3, Insightful) 848

by flyingsquid (#47779083) Attached to: Russian Military Forces Have Now Invaded Ukraine

Whatever you blame Bush for, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq are squarely Obama's doing.

Bullshit. Obama might not have handled things terribly well, but Bush bears most of the blame here. Let's look at the first issue: former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki pursued a divisive, sectarian agenda that caused the country to split along religious lines. Could Obama have done more to influence Maliki to be inclusive? Maybe. But who created him in the first place? That's right- George W. Bush. Maliki was brought to power in 2006 with extensive US involvement and support. If Maliki's politics are to blame, then Bush is ultimately the one to blame for Maliki.

Second Issue: withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Damn you, Obama! Except wait a minute, who was it who approved a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that called for all U.S. troops to leave in 2009... hm, it'll come to me... oh, that's right, it was BUSH! Maybe Obama could have pushed harder to keep a residual force, but he wasn't able to get an agreement. Turns out, he couldn't negotiate with Maliki. The guy, you will recall, put in power by the Bush administration.

Third Issue. These ISIS guys. Where do they come from? They're pretty badass, they act more like an occupying army than a terrorist organization. Turns out, there's a reason for that- they include a whole bunch of former Iraqi Army officers, who went to military academy and everything. Iraqi army officers who joined the insurgency after the Iraqi Army was disbanded by, wait for it... George W. Bush. Disbanding the Iraqi army was arguably the stupidest move of all, possibly even stupider than invading. It took the only force capable of holding the country together, destroyed it, and then then turned a bunch of disgruntled, unemployed soldiers and military officers loose to create an insurgency.

Fourth, Iraq invasion. It should be pretty obvious where the blame for that lies.

Comment: Re:We need faster-than-light travel (Score 1) 66

We need cloning bays, and extremely hardened ships. Don't send a person, send a blueprint and some way to raise and teach a first generation. We don't have to get there ourselves as long as our "children" can.

Minor detail- who's going to raise the children in this sci-fi scenario? You're going to have a whole generation of children brought along as frozen embryos, brought to term in artificial womb tanks, then fed and cared for as infants by robots, raised by robots, taught language by robots, getting the "where do babies come from" talk delivered by robots (in this case, they get a really freaky explanation), going through a rebellious teen phase ("What are you talking about? I do not dress like a little slut! All the cool girls dress like this! God! You're so lame! I just want to hang out with my friends at the supply depot! You never let me do anything fun! I hate you Matriarch-371B! You're a terrible parental simulacrum!")... most humans do a terrible job at this, do you really think an AI could handle this kind of stuff? Any AI capable of raising an infant to an adult and doing a good job would find interstellar exploration trivial by comparison.

Comment: Re:Bad actors? (Score 0) 149

I was wondering what was going on here. The NYC subway is plastered with these "Air Bnb is good for New York advertisements", and the CEO/founder recently did an appearance on the Colbert Report. It's not so much a campaign to use the company as a PR campaign to create support, and you definitely got the impression that they were on the defensive, and now we know who they were on the defensive against.

It seems that in NY there are 10000s of hosts. Figuring out the most criminal 1% of these has nothing to do with killing innovation.

It has EVERYTHING to do with killing innovation. Think about it for a second, who benefits? The government is pushing this, but it's almost certainly at the request of the hotel industry who (correctly) see the innovation of Air BnB as a threat to their profit margins. The right wing is fond of arguing that government over-regulation is a major problem for businesses, and it's true. What they fail to mention is that this is often a result of other businesses, who lobby for legislation to regulate their competitors out of business. If you have a good lobbyist, government goes from being a hindrance to a giant hammer to crush your opponent. I guarantee you that NYC's many hotel owners did not sit back casually and go "hey, this new company is innovating to allow individuals to directly compete with us and cut into our profits. Good for them!" They've got lobbyists, and their only job is to talk to people in government to push for regulation favorable to their industry- and unfavorable to their competitors.

Comment: Re:Quarantine vs. being stubborn (Score 1, Insightful) 359

by flyingsquid (#47697395) Attached to: Ebola Quarantine Center In Liberia Looted

It's probably easier to let these people die of ebola than it is to change the mind of someone who stubbornly believes in things that are false. There have been many information campaigns about the causes and prevention of transmission of ebola, up to and including rap songs, and yet they can't help themselves.

Yeah, they're idiots. I can think of another country where over twenty thousand people a year- far more than the Ebola epidemic- are killed because the ignorant beliefs of the society and lack of education put everyone in danger. People repeatedly try to educate them and show how with a few precautions, they could dramatically reduce the death rate from the epidemic. But no matter how many times you try to show those Americans the statistics on Canada, Australia, and the UK, no matter how many children are gunned down and slaughtered in school shootings, they stubbornly believe that their savage practice of letting everyone walk around with semiautomatic handguns and assault rifles actually makes them safer! But what are you going to do, they cling to their ignorant ideas and stubbornly believe in things that are false. They can't help themselves; it's probably easier to let these people accidentally shoot themselves than it is to change their minds...

Comment: Re:Too much surplus (Score 2) 264

If we have this much surplus, clearly we're buying too much. I know that if I find myself giving away cans of green beans, I make sure I don't buy a whole pallet the next time I'm at Costco.

Not necessarily. Following 9/11, the U.S. began two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the Bush administration. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq, wound down operations in Afghanistan, and begun to reduce the size of the army. As a result there is going to be a lot of equipment that simply isn't needed anymore; if we're not longer engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq for example, we don't need all those MRAP vehicles anymore. So what do you do with all this crap? One solution is to give it to the local police, but as we seen if you arm them with the tools of an occupying military force, they start acting like one. Another would be to give it to the Iraqis and Afghans or whatever regime we're trying to prop up this week... but as we've seen in Iraq, these weapons have a way of changing hands and now we've got ISIS militants armed with M-16s and driving humvees.

It seems logical to try to find a use for all this material but arguably giving people weaponry tends to fuel conflict. We saw something similar happen after the end of the Cold War. The USSR and Warsaw Pact countries produced millions of AK-47s with the idea that they could hand them out to peasants in case they ever got in a fight with NATO. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, you had all these extra guns nobody needed. Enterprising people figured you could make a lot of money flying them into conflict zones in places like Africa, fueling civil wars and militias.

Eisenhower said that war was humanity hanging on a cross of iron- that "every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." But its worse than that- those billions of dollars spent after 9/11 in the name of defending our freedoms are not just stolen from the American people, but are now being used to oppress them and spy on them.

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.