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Comment Re:Isn't this a no brainer? (Score 3, Interesting) 317

Most ads aren't aimed at getting you to click on them and make a purchase. The goal of an ad is to put a concept in your mind. The purest form of this are the political yard signs. Nobody thinks, "I saw 90 signs for Bob and 110 signs for Mike; therefore I will vote for Mike." But people do respond to pressures like that; it creates biases and impressions that they don't even realize.

Even when you do your research, you are influenced by these. Most of the time, your research is going to be inconclusive. There isn't any "best chair"; at best, it's a matter of personal taste. Most products, from canned peaches to computers, will end up having similar specifications, but you'll have a preference because you like the flavor of this brand or the you had a good experience with that computer in the past.

Advertising helps put those ideas in your head. Just seeing it in the ads will give you a positive feeling toward the brand, if the advertising is well done. A lot of advertising is poorly done, of course, but a well-done ad can influence preferences in very subtle ways. That subtlety means it's aggravatingly hard to tell which ads work and which ads won't, but advertising continues to exist for a reason: it steers consumer preferences during the phase where they don't know what they want and end up trusting their instincts. Which applies to more purchasing decisions than most people realize.

Stupid advertisers want ads that they measure working by clicks, so they optimize the ads to attract clicks, but that doesn't drive purchasing. The best ads are the ones that consumers don't even realize they've seen, but just develop a cumulative effect of exposure. That's hard to do, and requires a lot of time, money, and effort to get right. Even then it's a crapshoot, like trying to write a popular song. But in the end, there's a market for so many chairs and so many peaches and so many computers, and advertising can steer enough purchases towards yours and away from somebody else's equivalent one in a way that merely improving the specifications can't do.

Comment Re:a classic economics problem (Score 1) 523

Interestingly, to make the economics work, you'll have to charge more for the space than the electricity.

People put a high price on the time to move their car from the spot with the charger. Many would rather pay five bucks rather than go outside, move their car, and return to what they were doing. For many activities, avoiding the interruption alone would make it worth it.

So to convince people that it's economically better to move their car would require, I dunno, ten bucks an hour? Twenty? For comparison, a dual charger can put in 20 kW, and peak rates are usually only about $.20 per kWh. That's only about four bucks.

Of course you could funnel the profits into putting up more chargers...

Comment Re:I hate it because it's terminally unfunny (Score 1) 406

I didn't care for BBT, either, but pretty much all laugh-track sitcoms sound like that when you remove the canned laughter. Friends, for example, fares no better. The whole pacing of the show is designed around the laugh track.

So are the jokes. The laugh track clues you in to laugh, so they don't have to work really hard to make the script work. They basically hook an audience with a few characters they engage with and some stock lines, and then just repeat the formula. Once they've got them, people really feel strongly about the characters; it acts more like a soap opera than a comedy.

Eventually, people realize that they're hearing the same few jokes over and over, and check out. But a show can last a surprisingly long time on its own momentum plus the occasional shark-jumping (adding in new elements to the story line).

Not my thing; I find I prefer single-camera sitcoms, which are shot more like movies and tend to be more comedy-drama than pure sitcom, and they usually lack a laugh track. But I guess it's all up to people's tastes.

Comment Re:So less space and fewer tuners... (Score 1) 85

It's more about the overall viewing experience than pressing the button. Ads interrupt the story being told. Even if it's only for a moment, kicks you out of the story and you take a moment to re-adjust. Especially if you overshoot and have to scan back to find the part where the show resumes.

Hardly the worst crime in the world, but this is all about entertainment. Your feelings about it aren't incidental; they're actually the only thing going on here.

Interestingly, sometimes those interruptions are built right into the show. If you watch some TV shows on DVD, without the commercials, you'll find that there are weird shifts and repeats. They're where the commercials went, and they're bringing you back into the story after a break. With no break, it looks a bit odd, though anybody who's ever watched regular TV has no trouble figuring out what just happened. And are usually glad they didn't have to sit through the actual commercial.

Though increasingly, the best TV is often on networks that don't have commercials at all. Their target isn't divided between the advertisers and the audience; all they want is for people to like it enough to subscribe to the channel.

Comment Re:RISK vs CHANCE (Score 1) 182

The notion of "risk" kind of breaks down for extreme events like that. In one sense it's not unreasonable to put the model value of your own life at "infinity", since for you at least the entire universe literally comes to an end.

That would be just a quaint little artifact leading to the usual paradoxes that come when you arbitrarily set infinities, but it actually matters for more realistic risk assessments like health care and safety standards. You end up asking questions like "how much is a human life worth, in dollar terms?" and needing actual answers. The answers are always upsetting to people, no matter how high they are.

In my opinion it means that the whole notion of risk assessment becomes dicey when it comes to death. We want objective answers, to match the real objective dollars being spent, on something that's fundamentally subjective. "Infinity" is clearly not a good answer in that context, since those infinities always lead to absurdities, but I'd bet it's the most common answer people would give. Getting people to agree on some other, more useful answer is always fraught.

Comment A better nickname is in order (Score 0) 20

Glad they're running the contest, and congrats to ESA/JAXA... but this really shouldn't be likened to "America's Cup". The America's Cup is a sailing race, between actual sailboats. It's about not just design, but implementation: the vagaries of wind, the ability of sailors to collaborate, the properties of materials, tactics, reacting in real-time, etc.

When I think "America's Cup of rocket science", I'd want, ya know, actual rockets racing against each other. If "rocket science" is going to be to rockets what "computer science" is to computers, there are "games" and "prizes" and "competitions" and even "Olympiads" (which also sounds more like people actually running, but it's at least in wider use). "America's Cup" is very specifically about a racing event, and I think that this really gives the wrong impression. Some day we'll have an "America's cup" for rockets... but today isn't that day.

Comment Re:Goth Perfume? (Score 3) 49

It's also concentration- and context-dependent. Putrescine, for example, is found in a lot of foods (in parts-per-billion quantities). Cheeses include both putrescine and cadaverine; the distinction between "ferment" and "rot" is kind of arbitrary. Without those flavors, the cheese would taste different. The small amounts are not automatically repulsive.

A number of compounds are pleasant in tiny doses and noxious in larger ones. They're not even identifiable as the same; people treat them as entirely different. My favorite example is butyric acid, which smells like vomit in concentration, but like butter when dilute. Another (and I'm afraid the exact molecule is escaping me) smells like either honey or cat urine, and is found in both.

Comment Re:Considering how fast Google ditched China (Score 1) 381

Just because it's "on the internet" doesn't mean that Google is exempt, or that it's suddenly censorship because it offers what was once a paid service for free.

The shift from paid to free does seem to make a difference here. Google is the go-to search engine, but other engines can do reasonably well for very little money. If somebody wants to find you, they can ditch Google and grab a no-name search engine at zero cost to themselves. That's a shift from the days when there were a small number of search companies, who had to put in a lot of money on each search, and thus were easier to regulate and oversee.

It wasn't perfect, but it could be reasonable. Today, it's hard to see how removing yourself from Google really preserves your privacy in a significant way. Web crawlers are just too easy; easy enough to be free.

The way I see it, privacy is not what it used to be, and that's a genie that's not returning to the bottle. I don't know what the final evolution of society will be as it grapples with that. It may well be necessary to go through this experiment, where they try forcing Google to forge and it doesn't help. Or hell, maybe it will help just enough, in the way that crappy luggage locks keep out casual theft while failing to deter anybody really intent on crime.

Comment Re:Been saying this for years (Score 2) 684

And I just don't see the point in spending a lot of money just to ensure that "the human race" survives. Whether it's a few hundred people surviving a nuclear winter, or a few hundred people surviving the perpetual Martian winter, none of those people are likely to be me or anybody I care about. "The Human Race" is just too broad an abstraction to get me to emotionally engage with it.

I'd much rather see that kind of money spent on improving the lives of actual living human beings right now. I'm not opposed to space research or other sciences with only hazy, indirect payoffs. I'd just rather see it done in more cost-effective ways, with robots and telescopes. I wouldn't even mind manned missions, if they seemed feasible. But the idea of establishing a colony just so that "the species" can continue to exist seems pretty hokey to me.

Comment Re:Citation needed (Score 4, Interesting) 191

The idea is that if we don't find anything, the next most likely place to go looking is at the energy where the strong, weak, and electrical forces unify, around 10^13 TeV. The number they give is a few orders of magnitude below that; we probably wouldn't have to get all the way to the grand unification energy to see hints of new particles. I think that's the evidence you're looking for; it's justified by our present theory.

It's a "reasonable assumption" in that those theories begin to break down at that scale. We expect our theories to hold quite well, which would mean that we wouldn't expect to find anything novel until we got close. And then we have every reason to expect to find new things, which is what you need to help drive a theory that's measurably different from our present one.

Of course we never know what we'll find, but it would be hard to build any sort of intermediate-sized collider, which would cost insane amounts of money, and theory predicts that it wouldn't find anything of value unless it were even bigger. It could be even worse; they might not find anything for a few more orders of magnitude, at which point they'd be probing not just the strong, weak, and electrical forces, but also gravity. We know for certain that the theory breaks down there, but the amount of energy required to probe the breakdown is simply ludicrous.

Comment Re:What About Nutrition? (Score 1) 122

I think there's a lot to be said for eating the things that can be grown locally and in season. It's not clear to me if it's actually a direct win for the environment or nutrition, but I think that it pays dividends in the way we think about our food. A lot of people seem to expect asparagus 365 days a year, and it skews their perceptions of how food is made. And that in turns affects the choices we make about the whole system, and especially about what we put into our bodies.

I believe that the root of the obesity problem is that people just don't think about their food. Most diets work for a while, not because you need this special nutrient or avoid that special villain, but because they make people pay attention. When you pay attention to what you eat, you eat fewer of the nutrition-free calories that aren't doing anything but making you fat. When you pay attention, you can find that a 2,000 calorie budget is actually quite a bit of food, when it doesn't come in tiny ultra-dense blocks of fat and sugar.

So it may not really save that much energy, if any, to get lettuce from a local grower. But the fact that you think of that lettuce as something special, something you care about, does a lot psychologically. You eat it instead of a bag of chips and come out ahead.

Comment Re:What About Nutrition? (Score 1) 122

Centralizing agriculture far away and transporting pesticides and fertilizers to that site and then transporting the produce, sometimes half-way across the globe, represents a huge waste of energy, with the pollution that goes along with that.

Well... maybe. I've heard differing analyses on this. It's counterintuitive, but there are economies of scale associated with mass production. Trains are incredibly efficient, and so are the massive container ships: the square-cube law means you're moving more stuff and less vehicle. Local produce carried in the back of a pickup truck can burn as much fuel in 50 miles as a thousand miles in a freighter. There are similar economies of scale on the inputs: dragging fertilizer to a thousand local farms will be less efficient than one tanker full of it.

That's far from the whole story, of course. Local foods can take better advantage of local conditions (including less pesticides), can be better varieties since there's less shipping, are often mixed-use rather than monocultures. I know a local farmer who uses no fuel whatsoever on his farm... though a fair bit of energy is used hauling his produce from the country to the city, around 50 miles.

I do prefer to eat local when I can, but the fuel advantages aren't nearly as overwhelming as it might seem.

Comment Re:As they say (Score 1) 206

Mostly that if it actually did kill a lot of people, the corporation would take a lot of heat for it. The corporations do frequently try to push the limits on that, and the punishment for that isn't nearly severe enough. But they do actually take considerable steps to avoid having it happen accidentally, and it's really not in their best interest to do it deliberately.

The biggest problem is in ground beef. If you add one infected animal to the hopper, you can make millions of pounds of meat dangerous. That's expensive.

Note that I'm not a fan of industrial meat production, and I avoid it. That has more to do with concern for animal welfare during their lives, and with flavor: if an animal is going to die for my dinner I want it to taste less bland than the meat you get at grocery stores and most restaurants. Plus, a few environmental issues. And yeah, safety is a bit of a concern... but they do want to avoid killing people. Bad for business.

The opossum is a very sophisticated animal. It doesn't even get up until 5 or 6 PM.