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Comment: Re:So what was the result?? (Score 1) 458

by jfengel (#48879195) Attached to: Science By Democracy Doesn't Work

We don't really get to ask that question. It's subsumed by the existing question about whether we're contributing significantly. Since the answer turned out to be "no", there's no point in asking the next question.

Mind you, "no" is a stupid answer, but that's the point. There's no way to discuss the right question, because we're still too busy being stupid about the wrong question.

Comment: Re:Why not self-insure? (Score 1) 238

by jfengel (#48870393) Attached to: Google Thinks the Insurance Industry May Be Ripe For Disruption

Interesting. I'm surprised it's so low, since it's considerably less than the likely liability from a single accident.

Perhaps it's because, as the AC sibling post says, you don't get the money back at the end, and they pay claims out of the pot of money they've collected. Making them effectively your insurer, with one massive up-front payment. (That web page does distinguish it from self-insurance, which they do only for fleets.)

Comment: Re:Why not self-insure? (Score 1) 238

by jfengel (#48858685) Attached to: Google Thinks the Insurance Industry May Be Ripe For Disruption

I'm not sure how many people would be helped by that. You'd probably need to guarantee at least half a million dollars in your retirement account; even those who take their retirement seriously (a depressingly small fraction, according to polls) don't get that until well advanced in their careers.

And those who take their retirement seriously should not be risking their entire retirement account on this risk. There's a decent chance that if they're in an accident, they too will need medical care and lose work, and they'd be drawing down precisely the account they'd be depending on.

There are certainly some people who can afford to self-insure, but I suspect that they're about the same people who are in the SEC's class of accredited investors, who are capable of taking big risks with their money without becoming destitute if they fail. Not quite the 1%, but perhaps the 5%. And for them, insurance is already a very small percentage of their expenses.

Comment: Re:Silly assumptions. (Score 1) 172

by jfengel (#48851271) Attached to: The 'Radio Network of Things' Can Cut Electric Bills (Video)

It sounds as if the real win would be to build functionality into the device. Many refrigerators use the freezer as a cold store. The objects inside are frozen, and there's more latitude to lower the temperature still more without further damage as long as it remains frozen.

So you could lower the setpoint when electricity is cheap, then use that to drive the refrigerator when electricity is expensive.

I don't know if this is feasible or cost-effective; it would require more electronics (my fridge is dumb) and more engineering.

Comment: Re:Silly assumptions. (Score 2) 172

by jfengel (#48834087) Attached to: The 'Radio Network of Things' Can Cut Electric Bills (Video)

Is there really that much room in the deadband on a refrigerator that we can save significant amounts of electricity? We're talking about food spoilage here; letting the food get above 40F can be potentially lethal.

I'm not an engineer, but I am a cook, and we are extremely careful about the amount of time food spends in the danger zones. We're cautious, to be sure, but we have to consider the case of the most-susceptible people. I don't know how much room there is to slacken the parameters, and I'm sure there's some, but I'd need to see some numbers to know if the risks we're running are worth the savings we'd get. A fridge costs something like $150 per year to run, which is significant, but you'd need to demonstrate that we can save a hefty percentage of that to make it worth messing with.

Comment: Re:call me skeptical (Score 1) 360

by jfengel (#48833923) Attached to: NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

That graph is plotting months, rather than years. Those are monthly spikes rather than yearly ones. (Spikes in the differential over the long-term average for that month, so you don't end up seeing the seasonal swings.) The number being discussed in the article is the global mean temperature for the entire year. Other years had higher spikes but this past one had the highest yearly mean.

Comment: Re:"plenty of flat land to go around (Score 1) 165

by jfengel (#48832365) Attached to: Elon Musk Plans To Build Hyperloop Test Track

Thanks for the analysis, but why would it be lighter than a conventional train?

You compare it to the monorail, but at the least it's going to have to support the tube plus the train cars itself. The tube is static rather than dynamic load, which will make things a bit easier, but it still seems like the pillars will have to be a good deal stronger than the ones in the picture. Is it simply that new materials and not having to share tracks with existing trains allow for different, lighter construction? Or the fact that it's passengers and not cargo?

I'm all for Elon Musk, and he's succeeded so often that I'm going to assume he hasn't overlooked the obvious. (I even own a bit of Tesla stock.) But I'm concerned that it might be too optimistic, and that when reality kicks in it will lose the large advantage that's needed to overcome the entrenched resistance.

Comment: Re:Que calls for net neutrality... (Score 5, Insightful) 70

by jfengel (#48823667) Attached to: Ad Company Using Verizon Tracking Header To Recreate Deleted Cookies

And even if it were to eventually... it certainly isn't right now. Your privacy has been invaded for weeks or months. That is a fait accompli; no market reaction can undo that.

That's the thing I find baffling about the libertarian fantasists. Even if in some kind of long-term it were to eliminate some kind of abuse, it can't reverse the effects of that abuse. Pollutants stay in the environment. People injured by dangerous products remain injured. Patients who die from counterfeit medicines stay dead. You can't sue your way whole.

There are many other reasons why the market isn't nearly as frictionless as libertarian theorists like to imagine. But right here, in this case, we've got an example: you will never regain the privacy that you lost because of this. Even if you switch providers, and that forces them to change the policy, it won't return the privacy you've already lost. Markets simply aren't frictionless, and that friction makes the notion that "the market fixes everything" just plain false.

That's not to say we need infinite regulations on everything. The right level of regulation is difficult and complex, and has to be worked out as a compromise. I'm just pointing out that "oh, it'll all be OK, we never need to do anything at all" isn't a helpful contribution to that compromise.

Comment: Re:poor summary (Score 1) 299

by jfengel (#48823055) Attached to: Uber Suspends Australian Transport Inspector Accounts To Block Stings

I thought the idea of Uber wasn't to be cheaper, but more convenient. They have more drivers out working than the taxis, since it's a part-time job rather than a full-time job, and can attract drivers at surge times with higher fees.

According to http://www.businessinsider.com..., a taxi is actually cheaper than Uber in New York, and about even after tipping. But the real win is not having to hail a cab or deal with the unreliable dispatching service. They use GPS more effectively to provide better feedback. They're also a single service, rather than dozens of cab companies.

I suspect that the cabs could provide much better service by incorporating part of Uber's business model. It's a bit disturbing to me that they seem to want to win based primarily on requiring a regulation limiting the number of cars. Not that Uber is playing nicely, at least not from what I read on teh intarwebz, and if so I'd be happy to see them beaten out by somebody who will be less predatory.

Comment: Re:Hmmm ... (Score 1) 290

by jfengel (#48822773) Attached to: Bitcoin Volatility Puts Miners Under Pressure

The volatility of bitcoins is just proof that you shouldn't horde them, there's no reason to do that.

And yet people go out of their way to mine them. That's why I find bitcoins so distasteful. If they were nothing more than an algorithm for cryptographically-encrypted checking accounts, denominated in the same currency I'd always been using, I'd be all for it.

Instead, it not only creates its own currency, but proceeds to hand it out for (effectively) free to early adopters, and others for the value of devoting computers and electricity to it. The fans generally have a personal interest in it, not just to improve the transfer of value but to bolster the currency they invented for the purpose. They're seeking the currency for its own value, not entirely dissimilar to hoarding it, and inventing that value in the process.

Like I said, if somebody were to craft their own blockchain and use it solely as a transfer medium, that would indeed be extremely useful. Our current transfer system is abominable. There are probably even ways to use it as a single-currency to reduce international fees. But the idea of having them sell it to me, having put in no significant work for the value they've supposedly created, is of no interest to me.

Comment: Re:Secret Ballot? (Score 1) 480

by jfengel (#48822521) Attached to: How Bitcoin Could Be Key To Online Voting

Oddly, some people don't seem to want their representatives to be smarter than they are. They want their representatives to be approachable and more like them. I also see a lot of people (including in this thread) campaigning for direct democracy.

Representation is partly about removing the day-to-day swing of the masses; the US legislature is deliberately divided between a house that is replaced very frequently and one that is more aloof. But I think it's also about the pragmatic effect of composing legislation. Legislation is never really binary; it's full of compromises and details. It would be difficult to assemble a majority coalition around any one bill rather than thousands of variants.

At the very least, that means you end up with parties. And it's difficult to conceive of how you'd do the negotiations with a full country-sized electorate. There are ways to do it; ballot propositions are really laws done by a direct majority. But it often turns out badly, and few really understand what they're voting on.

Comment: Re:Secret Ballot? (Score 4, Insightful) 480

by jfengel (#48796129) Attached to: How Bitcoin Could Be Key To Online Voting

No vote is better than an ill-informed / non-informed vote.

Ya know, I'm not so sure about that. The whole premise of democracy is that we are, collectively, smarter than any of us individually. Somehow, the average of the guesses comes out as closer to the truth than any of the guesses. Uninformed voters on one side of the issue cancel out uninformed voters on the other side of the issue.

There's a lot of reason to be dubious about that, but to be frank, the vast majority of voters are very uninformed about practically every issue. Any significant topic requires years or decades of study to be really expert on. And most voters will go in with nothing more than they've read in the newspaper, or worse, on TV. Take any topic you actually know in detail; do you think that any reporter has ever understood it? Here on Slashdot we regularly complain about how science and technology are misrepresented and misunderstood. Do you really think that reporting on energy issues, the economy, or foreign affairs is any better?

I'm always glad for people to want to know more, but practically everybody goes into the voting booth with a massive case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome, convinced that they know the topic far better than they actually do. The whole point of democracy is to try to take that into account. Usually, we're actually voting for people to represent us, and they often know it a bit better than we do (or at least, they have advisers who do), but in the end we're really just hoping that the representative on the side of the truth will have slightly more followers than the representative who has it wrong. Democracy is designed to expose a slight bias towards reality, even if few of the individuals involved can actually justify that bias.

I'd love to live in a meritocracy where only the best experts are making decisions... but who's going to pick those experts? I'd be happy if it were me, but I bet you wouldn't be. Democracy is the closest thing I've ever seen to a fair way to pick. And if so, it only works because everybody gets to take their best guess. I suspect that the ones who know enough to know that they don't know very much are better qualified to take their guess than those who don't even know that they don't know.

Especially when you've got a news media which gets its best viewership by telling them how smart they are and that all of the smart people agree with them. They're the most dangerous voters of them all, and they vote in droves. And I can't think of any fair way to keep them out of the polls. So everybody might as well go out and vote.

Fundamentally, there may be no basis for anything.