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Comment: Re:some renewable techs didn't pan out (Score 2) 195

by michael_cain (#47932409) Attached to: Wave Power Fails To Live Up To Promise
Can't speak to wherever in Australia they were planning, but Oregon is a tough market. Lots of hydro, growing wind segment, and not enough transmission capacity to make sure excess can be shuffled off to other markets. 2011 was a wet year, and oversupply was already somewhat of a problem. The economics for intermittent renewable sources -- wind, solar, wave -- get worse in a hurry if you can't sell all the power you could potentially generate.

Comment: Re:Credit System (Score 1) 444

...but when it is not producing energy from a renewable source it is consuming it from a non-renewable source.

The US doesn't have a single power grid, it has three power grids that are almost completely independent of one another. Asking the renewable vs non-renewable question on a scale larger than the interconnect is inappropriate. And to some extent, asking the question on a scale smaller than the entire interconnect is an accounting fiction. Each of the three interconnects has a very different generating profile. Nevada is part of the Western Interconnect. Generation in the Western Interconnect as a whole runs 40-45% from non-fossil sources over the course of a year. The biggest contributor to that is conventional hydro power, with nuclear second. By 2016 or so, wind will overtake nuclear; sooner than that if any of the six commercial reactors operating in the Western Interconnect have major problems.

There have been a large number of nuts-and-bolts studies for doing low-carbon power in the US. All draw basically the same conclusion. It's straightforward to do in the Western Interconnect because of the available resources and geography. For the rest of the US it's an enormously harder problem.

Comment: Re:COBOL and FORTRAN (Score 1) 387

by michael_cain (#47866559) Attached to: Unpopular Programming Languages That Are Still Lucrative
The reality is, in long-established businesses in highly regulated industries with systems which are literally decades old and not easily replaced...

Too often true in state governments as well. The executive branch struggles with COBOL on a mainframe because the price tag for the replacement system is $50M and the legislature won't pop for that. Often for political reasons -- different parties in control and we'll be damned if we'll cooperate with this Governor. Price tags for government software tend to be quite high because of the large number of obscure add-on requirements that have to be satisfied. For example, the system touches information that is classified by the law as "medical records" at some point -- HIPAA as applied to government agencies rears its ugly head. Incredible amounts of cruft have accumulated over the decades.

Thank goodness I wasn't ever in the position of having to write software under those conditions. But for three years as a legislative staffer I did get to sit in on post-mortem analyses for failed software projects.

Comment: Re:Where there is a wil.. (Score 2) 258

by michael_cain (#47796775) Attached to: Feds Want Nuclear Waste Train, But Don't Know Where It Would Go
When you go back and read the history of how many potential sites were originally proposed by the DoE, and how those sites were eliminated from consideration until only Yucca Mountain was left, it turns out that both sides are anti-nuclear-waste. When the list had been reduced to three by years of deal-making in Congress, it was cut to one in a naked political maneuver involving a Texas conservative and Washington liberal in leadership positions. Following the closed-door committee meeting where the deed was done, reporters asked the chairman what had happened. The quote he gave them was, "We screwed Nevada." The change was attached to a budget reconciliation bill so that it could not be debated in either the House or the Senate.

A bill to restart the work at Yucca Mountain, or other western location, for a disposal site for eastern nuclear waste -- the vast majority of the commercial power reactors in the US are east of the Great Plains -- is one of the few things that would get the western states' Congressional delegations to vote unanimously, regardless of party affiliation. The last time it happened was for the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Comment: Contagious? (Score 1) 369

Has anyone else said it? Bubonic plague is not particularly contagious, unlike pneumonic plague, and tetracycline stops Y. pestis cold. Plague is endemic in the wild rodent population in the western US. People get it from time to time, but it's pretty big news if a case is fatal.

Comment: Legal... sort of (Score 3, Informative) 178

by michael_cain (#47674179) Attached to: Hemp Fibers Make Better Supercapacitors Than Graphene
"The hemp we use is perfectly legal to grow."

Yeah, if you're properly affiliated with a university or state department of agriculture, are doing it for research purposes, and have agreed to all of the terms and conditions that the feds and your local state require. If you or I try to do it commercially, it's a federal felony.

Comment: Re:Define:expensive (Score 1) 409

Hydro is out because we're already tapped about 99% of the viable hydro in this country.

The states of the US Western Interconnect have developed about half of their potential traditional hydro. Big dams have their own environmental issues, of course, but there's also quite a bit of run-of-river potential in the Western. For the Texas and Eastern Interconnects, you're about right for traditional hydro. I keep waiting for people to figure out that the US doesn't have a unified grid, it has three almost entirely independent regional grids, and those regions have very different situations. Trying to have a one-size-fits-all national energy policy is going to result in all sorts of problems.

Comment: Re:And when you include end-of-life costs? (Score 1) 409

Could you clarify that "The folks in Nevada who wanted to store that stuff in Yucca Mountain..."? The federal Dept of Energy would like to operate the facility; a small number of locals who believe they would get a big economic boost from having all the facility's staff settle locally like it; polling Nevada-wide runs about 2:1 against operating the facility, and most of the neighboring states are very strongly opposed to transporting the spent fuel through them. Following the late-night closed-door Congressional committee meeting where the list of candidate sites was trimmed to just Yucca Mountain, a reporter asked the committee chairman what had happened at the meeting. "We screwed Nevada," was his answer.

Comment: Re:Why do CS grads become lowly programmers? (Score 1) 637

by michael_cain (#47617881) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: "Real" Computer Scientists vs. Modern Curriculum?
This illustrates nicely the underlying theme that so many of the commenters are bickering over: CS is used to mean so many things that it's unlikely anyone getting a four-year degree is going to get even a quick look at everything they might end up needing. Just programming spans the range from million-processor-core super computers to fitting five new features into an embedded 16-bit microcontroller with 8K of memory.

Comment: Re:Usual story, nothing to see here? (Score 1) 123

Nobody is interested in fixing it, not even the environmental guy.

However, there are millions of people downstream of Hanford who are seriously interested in having the site cleaned up, and politicians who are terrified that at some point the feds will punt and it will all fall to Washington and Oregon to deal with. The lack of trust is understandable; the DOE asserts that it has cleaned up the much smaller Rocky Flats site upwind from Denver, but refuses to allow Colorado to have any independent testing done.

Comment: Re:4th gen reactors consume old waste as fuel ... (Score 4, Informative) 123

...point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel...

Unfortunately, much of the waste at Hanford is not in a form that can be easily converted to usable fuel for anything. Think millions of gallons of seriously nasty chemical toxins, that just happen to also have a batch radioactive isotopes dissolved in it. The clean-up plan calls for a one-of-a-kind chemical plant to handle separation and break-down of the stuff. Much of the delay can be attributed to problems with the design of said plant; a lot of experts assert that it simply won't work.

Comment: Re:paper...pencil (Score 1) 170

by michael_cain (#46801395) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Professional Journaling/Notes Software?
One of the other functions notebooks occasionally fill is as evidence in patent hearings. If that's a consideration, pencils are a no-no because things can be changed. Yeah, I'm at the "get off my lawn" age these days, but best practice for patent cases is still bound notebooks, numbered pages, ink. If you screwed something up three days ago, you don't erase and fix, you redraw on a new page with the current date and refer back as "corrects version of this on pg 23." For personal use, that's overkill.

I ended up with a piece of home-grown Perl/Tk code that lets me do notes from the keyboard, simple drawings with the mouse, paste in pictures and files, etc. Uses what appears to be the old xterm "fixed" font because at one point I planned to have a version that multiple people could view across the network and I wanted pixel-level sameness across locations. Multiple colors because as you say, sometimes that helps with clarity (and if I go back to add another observation on an existing page, I use a contrasting color for the text). Every line of text or drawn element gets timestamped and recorded -- that's for my own use, and is certainly not good enough to stand up in court. No limit to how far a page can grow down or to the right, which creates its own set of problems. I'm probably the only person in the world that would find it useful, but it does get some of the job done.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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