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Comment: Uh, no. (Score 2, Informative) 280

by goodmanj (#48560561) Attached to: Utilities Face Billions In Losses From Distributed Renewables

Guys, "lost revenue" is not the same as "loss". If I buy widgets for 99 cents and sell them for a buck, and my customers start buying fewer widgets, I'm not losing $1 for each widget they fail to buy from me, but that's exactly what the paper is suggesting.

Now, if my customers can make their own widgets and force me to buy them for $1 (as some states require utilities to do), I can claim that I'm losing money on that deal. But my losses are a penny a widget, not a buck.

Comment: Carbon tax carbon tax carbon tax. (Score 1) 652

by goodmanj (#48463031) Attached to: Two Google Engineers Say Renewables Can't Cure Climate Change

Fossil fuels are cheap because their costs are externalized: the person buying the coal doesn't have to pay for the climate change. The obvious and correct solution is to internalize that cost, and put a heavy tax on carbon fuels.

My pet proposal is a carbon tax collected at the source: as the coal or oil or gas leaves the ground or enters the country. This extra cost would be passed along through the economy, raising the prices of things in proportion to the CO2 generated in making and using them. You can return the tax revenue to the people as a flat rebate, a reduced income tax rate, you can keep it to balance the budget, I don't care: run your donkey-and-elephant politics however you like, it's the environmental benefits of the strong tax disincentive that matter to me.

For the value of the tax, I propose a tax that gradually ramps up to effectively equal the current price of oil by the end of the century. This is steep enough to kill off coal power in under a decade, but otherwise would let us gradually transition to green technologies and minimize the economic shock to the economy.

One last thing: goods imported from countries that don't have a comparable carbon tax should be charged an additional tarrif when imported, to compensate for their lower tax burden.

Many Slashdotters are free-market libertarians, and find taxes disgusting. I'm right there with you, but this is not a problem the market can solve on its own. But by taxing the problem, you allow the market to find an optimal solution for you, which is much more libertarian than allowing the government to pick and choose green solutions. If on the other hand you deny that there *is* a problem, that's a whole other conversation.

Comment: Re:Same problem as Iridium (Score 1) 74

by goodmanj (#48345313) Attached to: Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites

No doubt fiber is expensive, but what's the incremental cost to provide *cell* service? There's a reason many third-world countries are skipping wireline service altogether. Sure, a cell link can't compete with fiber for speed, but then neither can the satellite. The correct comparison is between satellite and cell, not fiber.

Comment: Re:Hmm, don't see it working (Score 4, Informative) 74

by goodmanj (#48340739) Attached to: Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites

Nope, read up on the Iridium system, which already exists. You don't need satellite tracking, you can use an omnidirectional antenna to communicate with low earth orbit. You just need more power.

That said, Iridium ping times are horrible, but that's more a function of 1980s technology than the speed of light or information theory.

Comment: Same problem as Iridium (Score 3, Informative) 74

by goodmanj (#48340701) Attached to: Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites

This suffers from the same problems that Iridium had:
* The people in the world with money to buy this already have good Internet access.
* The system doesn't work until it's global: you need to pay for the entire system before you get customers.

Land-based networks can build out a region at a time, starting in the wealthiest areas, creating paying customers who provide the capital for the next phase of expansion. Satellite systems are egalitarian, which sounds nice but is a problem: if you need 700 satellites to cover the globe but can only afford 350, you get global coverage that only works half the time, which nobody wants to pay for. And you have to set your asking price lower than what the poorest community that can't afford cell service can pay, which is a very low limbo bar to get under, and getting lower all the time.

Comment: Precautionary principle at work. (Score 2) 432

by goodmanj (#48246981) Attached to: Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin

Let me demonstrate the authors' "precautionary principle", which says that if an action has even a slight or unknowable risk of causing absolutely devastating harm, you shouldn't do it.

If I leave the house tomorrow morning, there is a chance I might get run over by a truck and killed -- as far as I'm concerned, that's the ultimate in devastating harm. In contrast, the benefits of me leaving the house on a given day (earning some money, keeping my job, seeing the sun) are modest. Therefore I should just stay in bed.

It's ridiculous, but that is *exactly* the argument they're using against GMOs.

Comment: Allowing Comcast doesn't increase competition (Score 1) 232

by goodmanj (#48157115) Attached to: Worcester Mass. City Council Votes To Keep Comcast From Entering the Area

My first thought was, "if the problem is a monopoly, how does keeping a competitor out of the market help?" But then I read the article. Comcast isn't coming in to compete with existing cable and phone services: instead it's doing a deal to swap customers with the existing provider (Charter). Worcester customers will still only have one possible cable provider, it's just going to be Comcast.

This is such a blatant anticompetitive cartel arrangement that I have no problem with local government blocking the deal: it's the only way customers can have any voice at all.

Comment: Yes: anonymized, "read only" data (Score 1) 141

IMO, It's ethical to collect and use data on people that has been stripped of identifying information -- census data, for example, is a major element of sociology research. You still need an institutional review board, but it can be OK. Where Facebook went wrong was by changing things for people to try to manipulate them.

In short: anonymous "read only" experiments on human subjects are OK; "read/write" experiments are a no-go without explicit individual consent and monitoring.

("But if we can't manipulate individuals, how can we set up a good controlled experiment that can distinguish correlation from causation?" Good question, but that's your problem, not mine.)

Comment: Solomon has spoken... (Score 1) 188

Welp, they sure split that baby.

(No seriously. Remember, the point of Solomon's judgement was to use a decision that's bad for both sides to determine who the real winner should be in the end. Same here. I'm betting we'll see Boeing whine, delay, and run over budget while SpaceX gets down and builds some rockets, but either way, in a few years we'll see who the manned spacecraft baby really belongs to.)

Comment: "Liberal arts" is not what you think it is. (Score 1) 392

by goodmanj (#47923729) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Any Place For Liberal Arts Degrees In Tech?

I'm sick of this bullshit belief that "liberal arts" refers to non-STEM majors in the humanities and social sciences, and is college in "easy mode". Quick history lesson: it's called "liberal" arts because from Roman times through the Renaissance, they were the skills that made one worthy of being a free person, as opposed to the manual skills appropriate for a slave. They included both artistic subjects like grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and scientific "arts" like astronomy and math. Of course meaning changed over the years, but today liberal arts colleges try to create well-rounded generalist thinkers, jacks of all trades and masters of at least one.

I've got a BA in physics from one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. You might think that's a joke, but my PhD advisor at MIT didn't. I'm now a tenured professor in physics, and my college buddies do stuff like dark matter research at Livermore, software development for Google and Microsoft, etc.

Enough bragging and tech namedropping, the point is that a liberal arts education can get you an excellent technical education. Unfortunately, too many major universities offer a "liberal arts" program which *is* college easymode, intended for folks who go to college for the social scene. But getting a liberal arts at these places is like buying organic local produce from Walmart: sure, they have it, they've got everything, but it's so contrary to the philosophy of the place that you're right to be skeptical.

"Is there any place for degrees in the humanities and social sciences in tech?" Now that's a reasonable question, to which I think the answer is obviously "yes", and my friends the Latin major computer programmer and the religion major tech writer would agree. But if you think "liberal arts" can't provide a top-notch education in STEM subjects, you're not qualified to read a resume.

Comment: Re:Safe choice? (Score 3, Informative) 123

by goodmanj (#47875599) Attached to: SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts

Dragon isn't human capable.

Dragon is human capable. SpaceX could have thrown a human into any of its Dragon capsules and he or she would have been fine (if a bit bruised from lack of comfy chairs).

It's just not human *rated* yet. Which is an important distinction, but it's paperwork, not engineering.

As for safety record, their failures have all been for early prototypes testing risky new ideas. You're *supposed* to have accidents at that stage. Every rocket designer worth his salt has blown up a rocket or two in the early days: what matters is that you don't make mistakes when paying customers are on board.

A method of solution is perfect if we can forsee from the start, and even prove, that following that method we shall attain our aim. -- Leibnitz