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Comment: Political background (Score 2) 63

by Simon Brooke (#47447527) Attached to: Scotland Could Become Home To Britain's First Spaceport

Relax, everyone. This is a non-story; it isn't going to happen, and no-one seriously expects it to.

We're having a referendum in September on whether to separate from the UK and become an independent nation. The UK government has woken up - very late - to the realisation that it's quite likely to lose, and consequently will also lose its only nuclear submarine base, 90% of its oil revenue, and probably its permanent seat on the UN security council. Consequently they're panicking and offering us all sorts of unlikely bribes. The spaceport won't happen because

  1. If we vote 'yes', it's not going to be an urgent priority of the Scottish government;
  2. if we vote 'no', this and all the other promised bribes will be quietly forgotten.

So relax. The fact that there's no money and no commercial use for it, and that we're too far from the equator, doesn't matter; no-one seriously intends to build it. It's a media stunt, pure and simple. It isn't going to happen.

Comment: Re:Inside of cameras (Score 5, Informative) 177

by Animats (#47445151) Attached to: Scientists Have Developed a Material So Dark That You Can't See It

I didn't research so forgive my ignorance

It gets this property from its fine surface structure, which is a forest of tubes. Incoming light has to be reflected many times before it gets back out, so a black material is effectively made even less reflective. It's the optical-scale version of the pointed absorbers used in anechoic chambers.

It probably is not going to retain its blackness when exposed to water, dirt, or wear. Superhydrophobic coatings such as Never Wet have the same problem - they work because they're composed of tiny points, so droplets of liquid don't have a surface they can grab. But after some wear, the effect stops working. (See any of the many "NeverWet fails" videos on YouTube.)

This is likely to be great for protected environments, such as inside optical systems. It should be useful for optical sensors in space, too. But it's probably an inherently fragile surface. That limits its uses. (The "stronger than steel" probably refers to the individual carbon nanotubes, not the bulk material.)

This s a problem with a lot of surface chemistry stuff touted as "nanomaterials". They have interesting surface properties, but the surfaces are fragile, because they're some very thin surface layer with an unusual structure. If you protect that structure with some coating, you lose the effect.

Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 1) 261

Well, I don't know if anything in economics is provable per se, but Europe (more specifically the UK) is going through this debate right now. The EU is a giant free trade zone. How valuable is that? People who do business all think it's essential, but people are who are just employees aren't so sure. Let the debate commence.

Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 1) 261

Whatever the reason, they still boosted domestic production and economic growth.

That may have been true in the USA (hard to say given the lack of in-depth statistics back then and difficulty of knowing the impacts of such things even today) but it probably wasn't the case abroad. Sure, the USA didn't care one whit back then about the impact of tariffs on British or European manufacturers, nor did they care much if Americans couldn't afford superior foreign-made products for a while. They valued economic independence more, and given their situation that was understandable.

But putting military concerns to one side, free trade theory is correct. Those tariffs made the world as a whole economically worse off. If governments could be trusted not to use their economies as weapons of war, it'd be better for everyone if tariffs were reduced and removed, because it makes people wealthier in the long run and that's why every so often countries and trading blocs try to engage in free trade treaties.

Of course the problem is, governments do so love using economics as a weapon .... the USA more than most. So tariffs will continue to have non-economic justifications for the forseeable future, of the form "yes it makes us less wealthy, but the upsides are worth it".

Comment: Re:Free Shipping (Score 1) 261

Banning loss leaders (a.k.a. market dumping) seems like an inherently attractive fix to improve free markets, but it's fraught with difficulty.

The most obvious problem is R&D costs. I do market research and decide that people would be willing to pay $100 for a widget. But said widget does not yet exist, so I spend a million dollars to develop it, and then start selling it for $100 a pop. I calculate it will take several years to break even but that's OK, because I'm a businessman who thinks long term and we like those sorts of people don't we?

I think you can see where this is going - the business runs at a loss for several years, to build the market and spread out the development costs. Eventually I can reduce the price of my widget because I paid off the R&D costs. But until then I'm still in the red.

Amazon is no different. If they make no profit, it's because they choose to charge low prices, build the market and develop new products all at the same time, instead of cashing out. Though actually I think you're distorting history by saying they "muscled their way into the market". Amazon was one of the first online stores. There was no market to muscle in to, nobody else was doing what they were doing. Bezos pretty much created a new market from scratch.

Comment: Re:Price floors are subsidies (Score 1) 261

And sometimes it is, despite the supposed inefficiencies. That's what the French government thinks, and there are similar opinions in other European countries.

If governments could reflect the diversity of opinions in their population perfectly ever time, the world would be a simpler place.

In practice they tend to reflect the opinions of a very specific group of people - politicians (closely followed by bureaucrats) who are e.g. typically older and wealthier than the average man on the street.

There's an interesting article by an author on the topic, called "Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller: Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you". Worth reading, at least.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 261

If it isn't better, why would you do it?

Small online book shop - you didn't hear about them so .... they don't exist? Is that what you're implying?

Read this article about a commercial dispute between Amazon and a large publisher (Hachette). It was on the Colbert Report, a US news comedy show. The hosts book was caught up in this dispute and so he told people to go buy his book and others at Powell's Books, which I can only describe as a small (relative to Amazon) online book store.

Comment: Re:Cost of housing (Score 2) 261

The price of homes has become wildly disconnected from the cost of land thanks to their use as speculative asset, but even if that were not the case in most places you can build upwards way more than people do. And populations are stabilising or even falling in developed parts of the world. Only immigration keeps it from entering full-on collapse. So if our messed up financial system gets fixed and people stop using houses as piggy banks I see no reason why the cost of homes must go up forever.

Comment: Re:Not France vs US (Score 1) 261

If you want many participants in a market, most of them will be small. That is why small shops are worthy of protection.

You can't have it both ways. If you think markets can only support five competitors, simply shrinking the market doesn't radically change things, as by definition local bookstores only compete in a small local market with a small selection of books. If you want a book that isn't in the bestsellers list, then in your local town there's probably only one or two book shops that stock it at best and most likely none.

You also want to have employment in your country be fairly even, and not have some areas with high demand and low supply and some with low demand and many unemployed, which is why local shops are worthy of protection.

You could apply this sort of argument to anything but it'd still be based on a false premise: while it'd be nice to have geographically distributed demand for labour, in practice this has not been true since the invention of cities. Why should people in cities have to suffer so someone in the countryside can be given a useless make-work job and be told they're helping preserve the nations culture? This is how the CAP got started, a program so massively unfair it is routinely used as ammunition by Euro-skeptics in Britain and elsewhere.

What's more once you decide that lots of people deserve to be protected from changing times, what happens if everyone decides that the e-book is to reading what the automobile is to riding horses? Do we keep all these little local booksellers employed even though nobody goes into their shop anymore, just because it's always been that way? I hope not but that's exactly the kind of thing France excels at.

Comment: Re:It is not about you. (Score 1) 261

The geek as cultural imperialist.

What has no value for me has no value for you.

Except I didn't say that. Go back and read what I wrote again before being so condescending. I said that I personally didn't see any inherent reason why bookshops are special and need protection, not that nobody else should value them. If you value local bookshops, there's a simple non-legal fix: go buy books there.

But obviously most French people are like me, otherwise France wouldn't have felt any need to pass such a law. French people would have rejected buying books on Amazon and the local players would have felt little impact. There would have been no problem to solve. So far from being a "cultural imperialist geek" I'm just pointing out the bleedingly obvious - regardless of what some columnist in the New York Times might think apparently most French people don't care much about their local bookshop culture, at least, not enough to pass up cheap and convenient book sales online. And that's fine.

Comment: Re:I've always thought that the best way for Israe (Score 1) 323

by walterbyrd (#47443043) Attached to: A Skeptical View of Israel's Iron Dome Rocket Defense System


Israeli airstrikes are a response to Palestinian aggression. Were it not for the rocket attacks, Israel would not have launched air strikes.

The entire thing started because Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered.

Hamas is committed to the death of all Jews - it's right in the Hamas charter.

Israel may not be perfect, but let's not pretend that the Palestinians are just innocent victims in all this.

God made machine language; all the rest is the work of man.