Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Comment: Re:Harder: self-stabilizing parachute, or balance (Score 1) 489

by jfengel (#49745245) Attached to: The Brainteaser Elon Musk Asks New SpaceX Engineers

But it does require extra fuel. I'd have expected that fuel to be more than the weight of a parachute system, though perhaps not: it would be lowering a mostly-empty tin can.

I imagine that it's a bonus to be able to have that kind of precision on your rocket engines: if you can get them down, then it may provide advantages in going up. Certainly it's nice that you've proven that kind of control.

Comment: Re:Why did they ditch the TV? (Score 2) 243

by jfengel (#49729043) Attached to: Why Apple Ditched Its Plan To Build a Television

The crux, as I see it, is that an add-on box is clunky compared to a TV. It's a thing that has to be installed. That's not vastly hard, but it's a power cord and a data cable, and it just kinda hangs off of your TV. That's not elegant. (Note: I don't have an Apple TV, but I don't get the impression that they have any better solution than my Roku does.)

They can certainly make the software better, but I can see why they would want to sell you an entire television to make the entire user experience just right. It's kinda too bad that it just doesn't add enough value to a TV to make it worth the trouble. Apple has always succeeded best when they could make their solutions elegant, in ways that seem obvious yet nobody had done them until Apple did.

I do like your idea for improving the iPod, though perhaps an audio indicator ("You have ten minutes of play time remaining") would be easier, since it's just a software update. I suspect that they won't be refreshing that line very often. I, for one, have switched to using my phone, finally putting my much-beloved fourth-generation Nano to bed. (It was the last one before it became an iOS device, which meant that it was perfectly optimized for playing music and nothing else. But my phone does a better job, especially since it has wi-fi built in, and I am going to be carrying it around anyway.)

Comment: Re:Print some bucks (Score 1) 335

by jfengel (#49721637) Attached to: Stock Market Valuation Exceeds Its Components' Actual Value

It's the corporate cash, rather than the consumers. A lot of it is sitting in the Fed itself. Bank reserves with the Fed have skyrocketed:

They've been sitting at about 3 trillion dollars. They could invest that in new products, but they don't seem to think that the consumers have the money to make that investment worthwhile. I think they're wrong. Consumers are starting to borrow again:


after a substantial blip during the crisis itself.

So I think (and I believe you agree with me) that this is really caused by the investor class failing to invest. That's an odd economic choice, since that kind of stagnation should mean that inflation gradually eats their nest egg. They've managed to keep inflation low. The Fed is offering free money, and instead they're putting their cash into the bank.

A lot of economists would say that it's time for even more forcible inflationary measures, since the current low rates only barely seem to be staving off deflation. The Fed hasn't been willing to go that far (they'd rather that the legislature do it if the investors won't), but they have repeatedly refused to raise interest rates. That's the action they take when they're afraid of inflation; it's the punch bowl they take away when the party gets going. And this party is stuck; it's not completely moribund but it's getting mediocre small talk (and many are shut out entirely.)

Comment: Re:Print some bucks (Score 4, Interesting) 335

by jfengel (#49719071) Attached to: Stock Market Valuation Exceeds Its Components' Actual Value

Effectively, they have been. The Federal Reserve has been keeping interest rates at levels that should be causing significant inflation. The goal is to prevent a deflationary spiral by pumping up the money supply: when you can borrow lower than inflation, people should borrow and pay it back with tomorrow's less-valuable dollars.

They've been doing that for nearly a decade now, and it has successfully prevented the deflation, but it's a little baffling that it hasn't touched off more inflation than it has. The consumer confidence is hovering around 100, which should be a decent level for a stable economy. Unemployment is still higher than we'd like but it's well off the bust years.

My hypothesis is that people have gotten too used to boom economies. If people aren't getting triple-digit returns they don't want to invest. What we've got is a very stable economy, exactly the kind that people should be able to take risks in, but without a real estate boom or dotcom boom or other scheme to get people to dump their whole life savings and then borrow on margin, they just don't bother.

Stability means that those who have been left behind continue to be left behind. That's the worst thing that can be said about the economy. There just isn't an engine of growth.

There are a lot of other factors, I'm sure. Europe went mostly for less aggressive measures, and their economies haven't come out as well, meaning fewer markets there. China's growth has ceased to be ridiculous. Oil prices should have sparked some kind of boom, and I've got a nasty cynical feeling that Wall Street is ideologically predisposed not to invest in the emerging energies as much as they should.

But a lot of it is the catch-22 you mentioned. Consumers and investors each seem to be waiting for the other to go first. We've been technically out of recession for more than five years, and it's gotten past the point where the recovery could be called mere accounting. It's real. But America just hasn't gotten its feet back under it in the way that it usually does.

Comment: Re:"Citizens united" was a coup (Score 1) 142

by jfengel (#49691109) Attached to: House Votes To End Spy Agencies' Bulk Collection of Phone Data

Every vote in both the House and Senate are documented on their respective websites

Actually, not quite. There are a number of voice votes, where they don't even take an exact count. They're supposed to be used only when it's unanimous or nearly unanimous, though every once in a while somebody will play silly buggers and put things to a voice vote just to hide who said what. (Usually, when both parties want to avoid having the exact count known, since in theory anybody can request a division, which requires an exact count which will be published.)

Most votes are actually voice votes. They're generally on workaday issues without a lot of controversy, so it doesn't actually matter all that much. So it is true that all of the *important* votes should be documented on the web sites, but I thought the distinction was worth pointing out.

Comment: Well played, PR team (Score 2) 67

by jfengel (#49684549) Attached to: New Device Could Greatly Improve Speech and Image Recognition

Most of the time I gripe about press releases that massively overpromise, and don't contain enough real information to figure out what was actually done.

In this case they at least put the word "could" rather than "will" in the headline. And while the barrage of jargon that followed is incomprehensible to me, it's at least pretty clear that it's real work rather than science-by-press-release.

Now I'd appreciate it if somebody would come along and dumb it down to my level, which is still considerably higher than the fourth-grade education they usually target. So, in all seriousness: thanks to the PR team.

Comment: Re:Seriously (Score 1) 93

by jfengel (#49667495) Attached to: Apple Watch Hack Adds a Browser For Your Wrist

Probably less than 1%. But that doesn't mean it's not News for Nerds. Apple has a history of introducing whole new ways of looking at hardware: the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. Each had predecessors, of course, but when Apple introduced one the product sector took off, not just for Apple but for its competitors. Apple has a knack for finding new ways for people to interact with devices that people find appealing. The technical respects may be weaker than other competing devices, but the aesthetics drive a lot of consumer demand.

So few Slashdotters will own one this year, but it's worth reading the news to see if we're all going to own one (or a competitor) in five years. Or perhaps more importantly: if all of our customers are going to be.

Comment: Re:nonsense (Score 1) 532

by jfengel (#49630551) Attached to: The Medical Bill Mystery

Americans really do seem to see themselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". Everybody wants to defend their right to access things for money, even if practically nobody actually has that money, because they will some day soon. They're willing to do anything to preserve their rights once they get rich, including things that will actually cost them a lot of money right now.

I honestly don't know if a single payer plan would be best for America. But the majority of the arguments I hear against it are laughable. The country got to be rich and powerful by innovation and thought, but it seems simultaneously dominated by superstitious thinking.

Comment: Re:Try again... 4? (Score 1) 226

by jfengel (#49595835) Attached to: Grooveshark Shuts Down

Pandora makes it pretty clear that music at least costs attention. It has a *lot* of ads, both audio and on the screen. They tell you that you can make the ads go away, for a price.

People still don't quite connect that attention is being used as money, and they do still think of things as "free" even when they're paying in attention. But of all the ad-supported mechanisms I've seen, Pandora most specifically seems to make clear that you're paying one way or another.

Comment: Re:39/100 is the new passing grade. (Score 1) 174

That's a really good summary of the situation.

I do think that there's one more important factor. The flip side of reproducibility is utility. The whole reason that we care about reproducibility is that it means that we can put things to use. We demand falsifiability because if it can't be put to the test, then it's not so much "wrong" as "worthless", i.e. Not Even Wrong. If it can be reproduced but never is, what did it matter in the first place?

That's not the same kind of epistemological issue that falsifiability is, but it's a bit more immediate. If this research isn't being put to use, why are we bothering doing it at all? Wouldn't our time and money be better spent on other things?

It seems as if a lot of these studies weren't worth having done. Not just because they couldn't be reproduced, but because nobody wanted to. It's the sociology of science, the dynamics of funding and defining a new field. It's a field full of questions that we want answers to, but the questions themselves are ill-posed because we don't have a solid theory in which to ask them. We're going to have to grope towards an answer, and that's going to mean a lot of missteps.

I wish we had better answers, but it does seem to me as if this hints at a need for the field to clean itself up. Rather than performing so many disconnected studies, maybe we need to stop pushing for papers that nobody apparently has an use for even if they were valid. I know that's easier said than done; it hints at completely revamping the way funding is done. But the money is being spent, and it appears that much of it is not being spent well.

Remember, UNIX spelled backwards is XINU. -- Mt.