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Comment: No better moustrap at all ... (Score 1) 306

by golodh (#47572915) Attached to: Amazon's eBook Math
Let's not delude ourselves here: Amazon isn't "building a better mousetrap" at all and nobody needs Amazon to sell e-books.

What's happening Instead is that Amazon is using its marketing clout and its "brand recognition" to carve out a monopoly for itself.

Face it: anyone who can set up a website can sell e-books. You don't need a warehouse, you don't need fulfillment services. You just need a web-server and an e-shop.

You also need customers however, and that's where Amazon's added value is. It has a big catalog of paper books and lots of customers who'll turn to Amazon *first* if they're looking for a book. Any book. And yes, that makes it easier to sell e-books too.

In all other respects Amazon's added value is practically zero here, and it takes a lot of chutzpah to propose to charge 30% of the book price for that.

What Amazon noticed however is that *their* turnover is highly price-elastic and that they're well positioned to make money at high turnover rates. Needless to say that their turnover is an *aggregate* of sales of lots and lots of different titles. That doesn't mean that each separate title has the same price elasticity, or that its profit is maximised by adopting their uniform price.

Amazon simply wishes to grow its business by throttling direct sales and specialised retail channels and would like more or less uniform prices (like any other supermarket).

Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's 100% self-serving.

Comment: Depends on what debate you you mean of course ... (Score 1) 278

by golodh (#47483417) Attached to: The debate over climate change is..
In academic circles the debate is scientific.

As in: is it getting warmer on average?, can we say that's a climate change or is it another kind of structural change in our average weather situation?, and if so, what part of it is man-made? Arguments are based on data and backed up by models; datasets are being questioned, data filtering is being questioned, models are being questioned. Things work as they should, and the current majority opinion among scientists is: yes, global warming is most definitely happening, and yes man probably has a large part in that.

As soon as politics comes into it, the debate becomes political and thoroughly commingles the question "what's going on?" with "what are the consequences if global warming is happening?" and "suppose we all went onto an austerity programme, how much help would that be in practical terms, and would it be cost-effective (supposing that global warming is man-made)?".

What you see is a split between people who argue: yes global warming is happening and it's a valid reason to tell everyone (else) what to do in terms of conserving energy and scrapping their SUV's (roughly coinciding with the "centre-left").

And between people who think "we're not going to let a bunch of hippies tell us to change our lifestyle, so we'll attack the basis on which their demands rest, which happens to be global warming. (the "far right"). Those people are known as "climate-change deniers" and are conducting a totally different debate.

Their debate is about the question "Are we going to allow others to use this global warming scare as lever with which to impose measures on people that just so happen to coincide with their (centre-left) political agenda anyway?".

They obviously don't want that, and apart from denying obvious facts they are searching for ways to discredit people who provide those facts. That's a lot easier than debating facts anyway, and those are the ones you hear calling for private emails from researchers they don't like.

Where private citizens get into it, the debate splits even further along political lines. Citizens tend to follow politicians and opinion leaders they like and will defend what their chosen opinion leaders say and attack those opinion leaders they don't like. Simple. For such people it's not about facts (they wouldn't know how to check them anyway) but about credibility and ... who they would like to be on top come next election. Nothing new here, but that particular debate was never meant to be "scientific", so we shouldn't wonder that it isn't.

So it all depends on what debate you mean: the one among scientists, the one among politicians, or the one among citizens.

Comment: Re:A win for medieval mentality (Score 1) 1330

by golodh (#47437111) Attached to: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception

Separation between Church and State means that you get to hold whatever "religious" belief you want in private

Nope. It doesn't. If the state required citizens to abondon their religious beliefs in public then that would be a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Have you read the constitution? It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

I think you're turning the whole issue upside down and cherry-pick a quote from the constitution to support your argument. As I understand the constitution, free exercise of your "religion" can never allow *you* to encroach on other people's rights. No matter how strongly held your "beliefs" are.

you don't get to impose those religious views (or values) on others.

I agree with you. Nobody has the right to impose on the owners of Hobby Lobby their religious views.

Good you agree with me on the first point. I'd say the second point, about Hobby Lobby, isn't about forbidding them to hold whatever belief they like. It's about forbidding Hobby Lobby to force their belief onto their employees by riffling through their employees medical expenses and selectively disallow certain types of treatment with an appeal to their "beliefs". I really don't see how you can parlay that into curtailing Hobby Lobby's owners religious freedom.

Nobody is getting fired for buying supplemental insurance, buying their own contraception, etc... Just as you wouldn't want to be forced to buy your employees Bibles, the owners of Hobby Lobby do not want to buy what they consider abortion pills. It's that simple.

If abortion pills come with a presciption, they're legitimate medical expense. Permitting hobby Lobby to selectively exempt them from their medical benefits package is tantamount to allowing Hobby Lobby to impose its religious views on its employees. Not the other way round. And yes, you show that it's possible to dream up even more obnoxious abuse on part of employers (like firing employees who don't conform to their employers' religious views), but that doesn't mean this bit of abuse is justified.

Then work somewhere else. I don't agree with everything my employer does, but I choose to work there anyway.

The age-old co-out for all and any abuse of power that stops short of actually forcing people to do something at gunpoint. "Oh but you choose to work at ABC, so yes you expose yourself to XYZ and you have no right to complain. Don't like it? Then go work someplace else!" Taken to extremes (for which there are lots of real-world examples, both historical and contemporary) it would allow employers to dispense with e.g. health and safety rules, working hours rules, medical leave, minimum wages etc. etc.

Most advances in this area had to be legislated because employers wouldn't voluntarily adhere to any such rules (either because they callously decided it wasn't worth the money to them, or because they'd be driven out of the market by unscrupulous competitors). Your argument is an extremely tendentious one which can only be justified by an appeal to "the market" coming up with an acceptable solution. Unfortunately history and current affairs show that this isn't always the case. Hence the need for legislation.

It's beside point whether you do or do not agree with *everything* your employer does. The point is: does this employer encroach on one of your vital interests.

I don't think plan B is a medical treatment. It's elective. A baby is not a disease. I would argue that liposuction comes closer to a treatment.

And I think that's something between doctor and patient, and not open to an employer's arbitrary views.

Me too. Which is why I find it odd that you do want to impose your religious beliefs on business owners.

We've come full circle. I think you put the matter on its head. In this case it's Hobby Lobby that's doing the imposing, not people who want to curtail their ability to pass judgment on medical bills with the excuse of "religion".

Comment: Just another observation (Score 5, Insightful) 497

by golodh (#47419059) Attached to: Climate Change Skeptic Group Must Pay Damages To UVA, Michael Mann
There is no legitimate reason to ask for researchers' emails. Such emails are only useful when you're trying to make things _personal_ instead of businesslike.

You need people's emails when you're digging for something (anything really) you can use to discredit someone personally (apart from any scientific merit). Besides which, some of those emails are personal.

The Virginia court ruled that filing a lawsuit just to get those emails constitutes harassment, which in turn is a frivolous use of the court's time. A sensible conclusion in my opinion.

And yes, there do seem to be consequences for filing frivolous lawsuits.

Comment: Re:A win for medieval mentality (Score 1) 1330

by golodh (#47381851) Attached to: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception
Apart from the fact that I never contended that the Supremes legislate on this case, I think the point is irrelevant.

Separation between Church and State means that you get to hold whatever "religious" belief you want in private, only that you don't get to impose those religious views (or values) on others. Not even people who just happen to be in a position of financial dependence to you.

What people call "freedom" here is the freedom to impose your arbitrary views (here "religion") onto others (employees) by cavilling over what they consider "appropriate" medical care. What this ruling does is empower employers to meddle in what medical care their employers can spend their medical benefits, and that's wrong. The separation between church and state held the provision that e.g. employers couldn't use their power to meddle in the (privileged) docter-patient relationship, and that protection has just been lifted.

The question of whether Hobby-Lobby employees can make do in other ways is irrelevant. I think they shouldn't have to have to circumnavigate this particular obstacle in the first place.

I get the distinct impression that people fail to see how dangerous it is to lift this protection because it's touted as "Christian". For better or worse, Hindu, Muslim, Satanist, and Scientologist "religions" just got the same rights.

Your analogy about the "Hindu refusing to buy me [...]" is beside the point I think, because that's a case of an employer refusing you discretionary spending. Medical treatment is not discretionary, and although the employer ultimately foots the bill it's not something he would ordinarily have any say in (apart from this "religious" thing now). It's medical benefits, not some gift!

What I'm calling for is a state in which nobody can construe their their religious "rights" in ways that allow them to impose their religious views on others.

Comment: Re:A win for medieval mentality (Score 1) 1330

by golodh (#47380235) Attached to: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception
It's the judiciary (an important part of the state apparatus) that granted companies the power to discriminate their employees based on the flimsy excuse of "religion" on part the ones who own those companies.

This in itself gives "religion" powers in purely secular matters. Since it's an integral part of society now, it acts just like in the Middle Ages.

The separation between church and state doesn't just cover acts by the state itself, it also covers the privileges the state accords to those who invoke "religion" in secular matters.

Comment: More than cost (Score 1) 143

I know both SAS and R, and I think that for people who've never programmed, the GUI-based version of SAS wins on end-user usability because end-users can click together (simple and limited) analyses on really big datasets. This has far-reaching consequences for the learning curve.

For R there exist attempts at GUI's (like e.g. R-commander) that offer point-and-click functionality but they're more sketchy.

I think that giving non-programmers access to R will result in a flood of help requests because they really do need some notion of programming to use the R language. With SAS that's more in the background because the GUI tool is relatively well done, and use of the butt-ugly, antiquated and clumsy mainframe-style SAS language can usually be avoided.

In addition I don't know of any (reliable and working) alternative to the SAS Enterprise Guide. which lets you click together elementary data-procesing steps in a network that shows the structure and the results of your work.

I think that statisticians, real analysts and data-scientists will soon feel constrained by SAS and will prefer to use SAS to prepare a dataset for analysis, and then carry out any actual analysis in R.

Last but not least, R is still an in-memory analysis program, which practically limits analyses to what you can be fit in core. There are packages that try to extend R in this direction, but I consider them to be poor quality and cumbersome.

Python on the other hand is aimed squarely at programmers, and nobody else.

Comment: A win for medieval mentality (Score 1) 1330

by golodh (#47362381) Attached to: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception

The separation between church and state marked the end of the Middle Ages and the onset of the Renaissance.

Only in the US can its reversal be touted as a "win for freedom".

Last time I checked abortions were recognised medical procedures, so who the hick are those company owners to object to them? What's next? Refusal to pay for vaccinations? Treatment of aids? Psychiatric treatment?

And what if the owners are Muslims? Do they get to pick and choose what kind of treatment they "object to" as well? And followers of Wicca? And Satanists? And how about Scientologists (who are a recognised religion (for taxation purposes) in the US).

If I understand this judgment correctly, every man jack gets to pick a "religion" and gets to limit medical coverage of their employees on basis of whatever religious dogma they subscribe to.

There's your "freedom" boy. Enjoy it.

Comment: Wind and solar have this in common (Score 2) 441

by golodh (#47352621) Attached to: Researchers Claim Wind Turbine Energy Payback In Less Than a Year
They're both very volatile and cannot be counted upon to meet base-load demand.

Therein, as the "Watts Up With That?" commenters point out, lies the problem. You can *only* achieve that kind of ROI if you're connected to a power grid that will pay you fixed rates for your excess power when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, and guarantee availability of power in other circumstances (against base rates).

Power plants have a nasty habit of costing money every second while they're being kept in readiness, let alone when they're on standby or acting as spinning reserves. Money their operators can't recoup by selling power when there is a glut due to solar and wind generators.

As soon as you factor that cost in, the picture for alternative energy sources becomes a lot less rosy.

Not that we shouldn't try to maximise the fraction of wind and solar power, but let's be realistic and factor in the cost of keeping (conventional) power plants on standby instead of treating the power grid as a giant zero-cost battery!

Comment: Detroit likes gradual, planned change (Score 1) 236

by golodh (#47352387) Attached to: Google, Detroit Split On Autonomous Cars
It's their preferred modus operandi, for two reasons:

Planned obsolescence and a huge vested interest in current technology.

By keeping change gradual, Detroit can make consumers pay for every step along the way by selling them model after model that's just different enough to generate sales and yet not different enough to require big investments in new technology (manufacturing or otherwise). In doing so they make sure they can write off any investments in existing technology after they have been recouped. This is known as planned obsolescence.

With revolutionary changes however, Detroit's car makers will have no chance to slip a line of intermediate models and, say, a 10 year transition period, between the current model and the future one. So they leave money on the table. Big money.

And of course they won't do that if they have anything to say in it.

Google on the other hand has no vested interest in existing car technology and is only looking to monetise their current, developing, tech. Of course they want to see it implemented asap, with as little intermediate models as possible.

Given those two positions, can anyone be surprised they didn't hit it off?

Comment: This means that they need electricity Storage (Score 1) 365

by golodh (#47342051) Attached to: Germany's Glut of Electricity Causing Prices To Plummet
The problem is: solar energy is too volatile.

Intense research indicates that the sun doesn't usually shine at night in Germany and that solar cells operate at greatly reduced power levels in the dark. In other news, electricity production varies significantly from one day to the next, due to strange weather conditions such as clouds.

The upshot is that during some hours and on sunny days there is a glut of electric power which drives the spot-market price to zero.

This of course is bad news for companies that operate coal, gas, or oil-fired power plants because such plants are expensive to build and maintain and can't compete during the hours of abundant sunlight leaving insufficient hours during which to make enough to service debts and recoup investments.

Dirty old base-load plants powered by coal can usually continue to compete on price. Expensive modern gas-powered peak-demand plants on the other hand will operate at a loss.

Having caused a volatile energy form to gain prominence, the next thing for the Germans to do is to shift their subsidies from solar cells to storage capacity. They're already doing that, but in the mean time their conventional power plants will bleed red ink.

I'm happy to watch their experiments from afar and eager to learn how they will solve this particular problem, aren't you?

Comment: Re:Easy fix II (Score 1) 67

Tthe point is to incorporate costs that are caused by air pollution (like the pollination issue mentioned in the article), that are only felt by parties other than the ones who buy the product that causes the problem.

Costs that aren't reflected in the price of causing air pollution (caused e.g. by car-driving), but devolve on other parties, are known as "external costs".

External costs can however be included in the price of the product (in this case driving an internal combustion vehicle) by means of a tax, and that is often the only way for external costs.

The market that determines the demand for fuel combustion can do its work only if the "true" cost of driving is felt by the ones who actually buy that particular product, instead of other parties further down the line.

The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are working for someone else.