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Comment: Re:Still Disturbing (Score 1) 207

by michaelepley (#45980659) Attached to: Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online
I was in 5th grade at the time, but on a ski vacation at the time. However, I pressed my parents to watch the launch with me in the hotel room, mostly because as a 10 year old kid I was fascinated with all things space, and just also happened to be writing a report for class on Alan Shepard. I had biographies of him and many of the other early pioneers of space in my lap when I saw the explosion on live TV.

Needless to say, my report took on a rather more morbid tone following this, but at least I never lost my interest in space.

Comment: Stupid assumption (Score 1) 414

by michaelepley (#45652567) Attached to: 3-D Printed Gun Ban Fails In Senate
For one, I don't accept there are two categories: there are plenty of people that cross those lines depending on context (speeding, other "minor" laws), or groups of interacting people that in aggregate blur these categories, or people that might be tempted/forced to switch groups due to some external circumstance.

1) I care because a lot of guns are acquired by criminals from honest people, either knowingly/negligently (gun shows without background checks being the obvious example) or inadvertently (lost/stolen). Reducing the legal boundaries of plastic/undetectable guns means that there are going to be fewer of these and a correspondingly lower probability these guns will be widely distributed or used.

2) The "if a criminal really wants to" argument assumes that all crimes are carefully planned and executed, when facts show otherwise. Statistically, most crimes are unplanned, opportunistic, and random. The chances of all kinds guns (plastic/undetectable being one subset) being used is lowered when access is reduced. Again, facts and statistics bear this out in places where gun control limits access and there is correspondingly lower rates of run related crimes.

Overall, bans like this do have a simple, logical effect of reducing crime. In concert with other measures, laws in general reduce the probability of potential actors from simultaneously having the means (anti-organized crime, gun bans), motive (anti-poverty measures, education, penal), and opportunity (police patrols, security systems) to commit crime. No single thing with STOP all crime for all time.

Comment: Network effects (Score 1) 120

by michaelepley (#44608155) Attached to: Transportation Designs For a Future That Never Came
It is in general not very difficult to predict these sorts of networks at a gross level (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe's_law). Most networks scale in value, to the first order approximation, with the number of connected nodes. Simply put, if you have a network with very few nodes (aka stops on a rail line) it costs a lot and/or no one uses it. If you have a network with a lot of nodes, it cost more sure, but it gets used a lot more. Each successive node's value is scales roughly by N squared, where N is the number of nodes. The biggest wonder is that once a viable network is established, that is ever stops being expanded. Of course, not every network is analogous to a telecommunications network, and there are lots of other effects to consider in practice.

Comment: Time to ditch "THE THEORY" (Score 1) 775

by michaelepley (#44165699) Attached to: Electric Vehicles Might Not Benefit the Environment After All
In many, many instances secondary/tertiary/etc effects dominate. Plus, money expended is not the same as cost borne by the environment (as other have pointed out) due to differences between internalized and externalized costs. So until you've actually analyzed all these and concluded they are irrelevant, your terse, first-approximation theory has very little utility.

Comment: Re:Why is it news (Score 2) 815

by michaelepley (#40034457) Attached to: From MIT Inventor To Tea Party Leader
There are lots of other reasons you want regulation and government, not just because something is too expensive. Sometimes corporations (thay are after all designed to be a means to aggregate capital) can take of that for you.

Sometimes corporations fail: when coordinated behavior is required, for example in cases of large externalities. The economics classic "Tragedy of the Commons" is exemplified by our modern day causes of and solutions to pollution (compare for example how acid rain and CO2 are/are not handled). Game theory and showed us how under real world economic assumptions and actors (not the economics 101 supply/demand model that many people never seem to advance past), markets can and do consistently fail without regulation.

Also consider what is efficient. Sure, society, life expectancy, technology, or anything can probably advance without governmental institutions (or week ones), but much faster with properly designed strong interaction much faster. As a thought exercise, consider the relative course of history with and without the CDC, WHO, and UNICEF. Go read about guinea worm disease if you need help. You seem to like the idea of consumption taxes, a revenue mechanism that is very inefficient since it ignores the declining marginal utility of money.

As an engineer myself, I am dismayed at how many engineers I encounter that don't get the above and are libertarian in nature. They should firstly be interested in designed to solutions to problems, like the various failure modes of market based systems or political institutions. Second, they should understand the dynamics and forcing functions that might drive these very complex systems to self destruction when improperly designed or regulated. Back when I was in school, they made all the engineers in the early intro classes watch the various famous cases of engineering failures...Tocoma Narrows, Hyatt Regency skywalk, space shuttle...They still do right?

Comment: 15 years for mine, and inexpensive toner too! (Score 1) 557

by michaelepley (#29607083) Attached to: Choosing a Personal Printer For the Long Haul
Seconded. Loved my Okidata 600e, lasted almost 15 years. And to top it off, the toner was something on the order of $20 a cartridge, for about 5000 pages. Cheap, reliable, compact (for the time), fast (for the time), supported PS, PCL5...only needed ethernet and it would have be perfect.

Comment: badanalogy (Score 1) 356

by michaelepley (#29353851) Attached to: DRM Take II — Digital Personal Property

But you are unlikely to leave the car out front of your house with the keys in it and a sign on it saying, "Take me!" If you did, you might never see the vehicle again.

I might if I knew that after someone took it, a magical copy remained in its place. And I definitely would if everyone did this, so that cars were essentially shared, I definitely would.
It would be pretty cool...relatively few original cars would multiply many times until everyone had a car. Then, undoubtedly, some would tinker with cars they got at little to no cost, whether for fun, or because of special needs or tastes. Hopefully they would produce better, faster, higher mileage, more luxurious cars...which would then multiply since people would like them better. Eventually there would be a great variety, each catering to individual tastes, and constantly improving too. Some people would almost certainly band together to support particularly complex tinkering, or even wholesale re-creation, where the more casual tinkerers couldn't support, and their needs were great enough. Soon...flying cars, submarine cars, space cars! Yeah...this would be a pretty cool universe to live in.

Comment: Not so easy (Score 1) 794

by michaelepley (#28292045) Attached to: Should Undergraduates Be Taught Fortran?
Fortran has all sorts of what we would now consider artificial limitations and restrictions on its syntax that make writing even simple programs a lot less simple and intuitive. For example, line length limitations, special columns, short & special variables names, etc. I'd rather not spend time teaching/learning (especially non-standard) syntax and more time on the concepts while encouraging good stylistic conventions (use commenting, readable variable/function names, etc). I found Pascal a much better first language. Not to mention that many of these programs using FORTRAN are arcane, dated in their teaching concepts, and force FORTRAN despite students who often already know many other languages.

Comment: Absolutely! (Score 1) 1088

by michaelepley (#26829125) Attached to: Iowa Seeks To Remove Electoral College
I have been making the same argument for years (as a mathematician with a penchant for voting theory). Unfortunately, this is way over the head of most people (despite actually being based on very simple concepts and math), whereas a national popular vote has a very strong appeal due to inherent biases towards simpler and easier to understand solutions.

What is now proved was once only imagin'd. -- William Blake

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