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Comment Utilities are the gamblers. Ultimately solar wins. (Score 1) 298

The utilities may have won a short-term victory, but starting a war against solar is a mistake, because ultimately the utilities need solar customers more than solar customers need them. Batteries, cogeneration engines, natural-gas fuel cells - all are rapidly developing. Within 10 years in sunny states it will be quite possible and even affordable to go off-grid entirely, especially when compared to punitively high fixed fees. Then the utilities will be left with the same expensive grid to maintain on an even smaller revenue base, because solar former customers won't be paying anything at all, not even the fixed fee. Any arguments about "fairness" have to take into account the considerable environmental costs of fossil-fuel consumption, which probably already exceed the actual cost of the fuel itself. In the meantime, at least the early adopters (who in general paid much more for their systems) ought to be grandfathered. The whole point of the net metering program was to expand the market and bring down the price of solar installations. In that sense the program was a spectacular success, and the early adopters who made it possible deserve to be rewarded.

Comment a nice concept (Score 1) 247

However, there are many things I would much rather be eliminated from my news: 1. All news of Apple's latest gadget release or feature and of the antics of Apple fanboys desperate to get it a day or two early. 2. All headshots of and analysis of the background and motivations of the latest suicide bombers. 3. All mention of Paul Ryan and his latest scheme to gut Social Security and Medicare.

Comment A well-deserved demise (Score 1) 247

People who subscribe to other services still need a connection, and cable co's were well-positioned provide it, but stupidly, they continue to act as if they were monopolies, refusing to offer what consumers want and need: reasonable, comprehensible rate structures without hidden charges, and some semblance of customer service. In technical terms, it's a little bit crazy for people to be using wireless broadband for data-heavy internet like video, when all this hard-wired infrastructure already exists. But that's what's happening, only because Verizon and Comcast have missed their chance and botched their business model so badly. Unlike the wireless co's, they now have to maintain their hardwired networks on an ever-diminishing base of subscribers, putting them in a classic death spiral.

Comment A broken system (Score 1) 305

There was a time, before the internet, when such advertising was a necessary counterpoint to HMOs influence on doctors to always choose the cheapest solution, but now that the information is out there for all to see, these ads really do nothing to inform, their only effect is to artificially inflate demand for expensive patent drugs. But at the same time, it was the HMOs who first promoted this idea that, once you pay the flat rate for insurance, all your medical needs, including drugs, is taken care of. That sense of entitlement is baked into all subsequent health plans, including the Medicare drug benefit and ACA. A more reasonable alternative comes from an unexpected source: George W. Bush, who early in the the Medicare drug debate proposed that only truly needy patients or those with extraordinarily high drug expenses would get any help from the government. My feeling is that such a system would have worked better to control costs. Patients would decide for themselves whether a drug with a little less of a minor side effect is really worth 10 times as much as an older generic. Seniors, of which I am one, would get used to the idea that pills, and lots of them, are just a normal cost of growing old. Of course, all of this is a trade-off. Anything you do to reduce the possibility of "obscene" drug company profits, including banning advertising, is going to reduce the incentive to develop new breakthrough drugs.

Comment Not as easy as it seems (Score 1) 131

Academics have been complaining for decades about profiteering publishers and the high cost of publications, but when they've tried to bypass the system, they haven't done much better. When the open-access movement started, estimates were that $1000 or less could easily pay for reviewing, formatting and archiving each article. After all, most of the reviewing is volunteer labor, the cost of data storage is practically zero, and since access is free, you don't have to maintain a paywall. But turns out you still need a full-time well-paid executive editor to oversee the reviews, you have to pay the associate editors something, you still have to pay copy-editors to get everything in a common format, and you still need to pay IT people to keep the site secure from hacking. It's a robust market, with many open-access journals competing, and more starting up all the time, but ~$3000 seems to be the going rate, the cheapest anyone can handle an average article - and even at that, the nonprofits still claim to be losing money on every article they publish. So I wish these folks well with their conference, and more power to them in trying to come up with a cheaper model. But I wouldn't count on it.

Comment Musk is different (Score 1) 273

I am personally more impressed with Musk than Jobs. What Jobs did, with both the Macintosh and the iPhone, was to use his tyrannical leadership to bring developing technologies together faster than anyone else. Without Jobs, we would still have GUIs and we would still have smart phones with touch screens and rounded corners, although they might have come a year or two later than they did. Creating a viable electric car was a much bigger challenge. Sure, Musk couldn't have done it without massive government subsidies, but those same subsidies were available to all the big car manufacturers, and they didn't come up with anything like a Tesla. Without Musk, there still would be nothing like the Tesla.

Submission + - A second life for EV batteries (nytimes.com)

lfp98 writes: When I converted my EV from lead to lithium, I moved the tired old lead batteries to the basement for backup during power outages. Both GM and Nissan are now planning to do the same on a massive scale, developing systems for utility-level power storage based on used Leaf and Volt battery packs. Both companies already have in-house pilot projects, and plan to ultimately market the systems to power companies. Even after 100,000 miles, these batteries retain up to 80% of their original capacity. Though too weak for automotive use, they can find a second life in the much less demanding role of stationary power storage, where the power/weight ratio is nearly irrelevant and the rapid charge and discharge cycles that degrade the battery's performance rarely if ever occur. Finding a new use for old batteries would effectively lower the lifecycle costs and carbon footprints for both EVs and renewable power.

Comment Niche products for the well-heeled? (Score 1) 356

"solar panels and electric cars . . . . remain niche products for mostly well-heeled customers." I'd agree that might be accurate for Musk's cars, but for EVs and solar panels in general it's at least misleading if not flatly false. The people I know who drive electrics aren't particularly wealthy. Other than Teslas, EVs now sell, after the rebate, at roughly the average price for a new car in the US, about $30,000. Decent used ones can be had for $12-15,000. Plenty of middle-class families manage to come up with that much and more for a car, so the implication that EVs are out of reach of the masses is just wrong. And unlike many tax breaks, the EV credit doesn't increase just because you're in a higher tax bracket, everybody gets the same $7500. A solar panel array actually costs less than the average cost of a new car, even before the tax rebate. And, both EVs and panels actually save the purchaser money in the long run. If they skew toward wealthier folks, it's probably because highly educated people are buying them. As far as states bidding for manufacturing facilities with millions in subsidies, that's now pretty much standard procedure. With China and others subsidizing manufacturing, we have to do it too, or else cede all production to others. When the US went for free trade and let China into the WTO, that's what we were committing ourselves to.

Comment HVDC (Score 1) 597

Seems to me the author is understating his own argument, and missing the point, to some extent. The devices he excludes ("Appliances like electric ovens, electric water heaters, and air conditioners will [still] require 110VAC") are precisely the ones that take most of the power, probably 80% in aggregate. So, if you want significant savings, those would have to be DC as well, but it would have to be 220VDC or at least 110VDC, because for 12 volts you would need at least finger-sized copper bus running all through the house. In fact, the most efficient new air conditioners / heat pumps (e.g. Daikin Altherma) run on DC, i.e., they convert the AC to DC which then powers inverter-controlled synchronous motors. A water heater, even an existing one, could just as easily run on 110/220 VDC, you'd just need to replace the control unit. What you'd probably want is a system with at least 2 voltages, say 24V and 220V, each with its own battery charged by its own solar array, so you don't need to do DC/DC voltage conversion (which also has losses though probably not as much as an inverter). Most of the house would only have 24VDC wiring, 220VDC would only go to the kitchen and utility room, just as it does now in AC systems.

Comment Samsung T245G (Score 2) 313

Pretty dumb phone, although with some effort you can browse, text, even take crude pictures. If you choose the right plan at Tracfone and keep to less than 1 minute a day, you can get by for ~$5 a month. Of course at home I wouldn't use anything other than my genuine Western Electric rotary-dial.

Comment Re:Wind power is not the answer. (Score 1) 256

The noise is not from bad bearings but simply from the blades whooshing through the air. I don't have first-hand experience but those who live near turbines say it can be pretty severe. I can see a place for turbines offshore and in the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains where there is ample wind. But in the more populated east and west coasts, the noise and visual pollution just aren't worth it, especially when the wind is so intermittent. The few remaining undeveloped spaces there deserve to be left alone. Are we to have every Appalachian mountain ridge dominated by turbines even larger than the monsters already in use? In the long term, PV solar with battery storage is the only sensible solution. It's a little too expensive now, but in 10 years if not 5 years it will likely be comparable to wind and cheaper than any fossil fuel. By the time mega-turbine wind gets going, it will already be obsolete.

Comment Children should wear reading glasses (Score 1) 144

Or at least not wear their "normal" prescription when reading. I know for sure what happened to me. I spent plenty of time outside but I read a lot of books too. I acquired nearsightedness by about 5th grade, so of course they gave me corrective lenses to restore 20/20 vision, i.e., perfect focus at something 20 feet away. That meant that for reading, my eyes had to focus even closer than they would otherwise, in order to compensate for the glasses trying to focus farther away, so I got even more nearsighted, got stronger corrective lenses, and it just snowballed. By the time I finished college, I had corrective lenses of roughly -5.0 left and -4.0 right. Now, with no glasses, my natural, relaxed focal distance is about 4 inches in front of my face, anything farther I need glasses. I realize now what I should have done is at least take off my corrective glasses for reading and any close work.

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