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Comment Re:Info should be Releases When Produced (Score 1) 139

While it is certainly a laudable goal that all government documents should be made public as soon as they are created, that is simply not practical (as pointed out by DG above). For example, what sort of system do you propose that federal agencies put into place to make employee emails available for everyone to read? How many man hours do you devote to figuring out - a priori - which emails are considered to be official federal records and which ones are just the wife sending you an email to tell you to pick up milk on the way home, or your email to a colleague in the other building asking her if she wants to grab some lunch?

Seems like the better approach is to just store information until a FOIA request comes in, then charge the interested individual the relevant fees associated with recovering that information. That way, the tax payer is not on the hook to pay for tracking, storing, and automatically sharing every trivial, uninteresting detail of an agency's business.

Comment Re:Cry More (Score 2) 139

Document stores in federal agencies contain a much richer and wider variety of information and formats than you would give them credit for. It is not only about protecting peoples' social security numbers.

How do you automate regular expression pattern matching on documents from the 80's that were scanned into electronic form as TIF images? Or documents that are stored on microfiche? The documents could be OCR'd but that process takes a bit of time and effort.

And while it may indeed be possible to automatically scan modern electronic documents for personal information (my agency has scripts that it runs periodically on all the files on its network drives to scan for inappropriately stored PII), what if the document happens to contain some company's proprietary data that doesn't match some pre-defined pattern? How do you automatically tell the difference between some company's proprietary cost proposal for a potential contract and an agency's internal budget document?

Comment Re: Markets, not people (Score 1) 615

The price of gas operates this way. For a given locality, if there is no other gas station around, the prices tend to be 5-10 cents higher per gallon than areas that have lots of gas stations nearby. In the areas with high competition, the profit margins tend to be razor thin and prices tend to fluctuate in accordance with the underlying cost of oil. If the price of oil drops, the price of gas drops because once one station lowers their price, all the others in the same area have to as well or risk losing their customers.

I think the price of music has also dropped for the most part as the technology has changed from CD's to mp3's. Before iTunes distribution took over, it used to be that you couldn't go to Sam Goody or FYE or Tower Records and purchase a new release of a popular band on CD for less than about $16, and less relevant bands or older releases from the popular bands for about $12. Now I can get all the songs on a current album from iTunes for about $10-12, and older releases for popular bands in the range of $7-10. Some are admittedly more than that because the album price is now determined on a per song basis, but from my perspective, I am spending less overall than I was before. (and arguably receiving less, mind you, so this is not a perfect example).

Ultimately, it just depends on how cut throat the competition is and what the barriers to entry are in that particular market. More competition will drive prices down if the current margins can be squeezed while still turning an acceptable profit.

Comment Re:What the bill really is doing (Score 2) 32

The question in my mind, however, is - if they do shut down this agency - then what will they do with all the old paper-only reports that were published before the internet and electronic documents came about? Presumably, all those old reports have been scanned into microfiche, ready to be reprinted on demand. What happens to those? I would hope that before eliminating the agency, there would be an effort to scan all those microfiche to pdf and make them available for free on the web. Or maybe just hand them over to Google and let them scan it all in and host it.

Comment Re:Derivative works (Score 2) 183

Correction: there can be no copyright on work created by government employees. Work created by contractors on behalf of the government CAN be copyrighted, if the contracting officer allows it. Also, the government can hold copyright when said copyright has been transferred to it.

See the FAR Subpart 27.4 as well as 52.227-14.

Also, there are exceptions to the rule. NIST and Dept of Commerce maintains a government-asserted copyright to much of its property data, for example the IAPWS steam tables. The reason it is allowed to do this is because there is a law passed by Congress that creates an exception to the normal Code of Federal Regulations that allows NIST to do this. Don't have that handy to reference but I have seen it.

Comment Re:old, really old, news (Score 1) 586

nuclear weapons are never designed to just go "critical". Nuclear reactors go "critical" (or even slightly "super-critical" for short periods). Nuclear weapons go "prompt-critical" (which is just a fancy way of saying "really, really, really super-critical"). The distinction is not just semantics, but is germane to the physics of what is happening.

Comment Re:I love working with PV cells (Score 1) 477

The AC is right. You are just introducing a strawman into the argument. If you are going to argue the monetary costs of a fuel, then you really shouldn't introduce human-contrived externalities into the mix. The danger in doing so is that then you have to figure out where to draw the line. Because whose to say that wind and solar don't have their own problems that are centuries in the making, as well? Oh, say like the future scarcity of silicon from manufacturing solar panels, or impact to migratory birds from windmills.

I am exaggerating the impacts from solar and wind here, but the point is that if you are going to insist on including the costs of CO2 emissions into the subsidization equation, then you also should include the future environmental costs of the other "green" methods as well. And the trick here is that it is really hard, if not impossible, to predict how future generations are going to place value on aspects of these technologies that are currently not seen as having a societal cost.

The only reason you want to account for the costs of CO2 emissions is because you, along with many other humans, are placing a (negative) value on that. I am sure there are Eskimos living in Alaska that would place a positive value on a warmer climate. Shouldn't you attempt to include their feelings in the matter? Why is your opinion and valuation more important than the Eskimo's? Whose to say the world wouldn't be an overall better place to live a few degrees warmer? Maybe we should be charging more for wind and solar because they ultimately would be preventing us from reaching such a panacea?

Far better to just avoid playing these "what if" games.

Comment Re:The sequester is across the board, not selectiv (Score 1) 484

This is not entirely true. I work for a small federal regulatory agency. We are not cutting our budget equally across the board on all funding areas. For example, our agency brass has decided that nobody will be furloughed or lose their job and that all the cuts will be taken from contracting funds. And of that, the majority will come from research projects. So an 8% cut to our agency budget is translating to a 40% budget cut to research projects and some other contracts. The agency senior management then asked each low level Division to identify the projects that would be cut in order to add up to the 40%. Each Branch Chief/Division Director was given discretion as to whether they wanted to take a little bit from all of his/her projects, or to simply prioritize each project and then start cutting whole programs from the bottom up until the 40% was reached.

Comment Re:Fix acquisitions (Score 1) 484

You don't understand how federal contracting works. Most of the time the cost overrun is the fault of the government because the specs that it generates are not complete. Which is understandable because R&D is inherently risky and unknowable. Issuing a contract that says "design and build me a new fighter jet that will replace my current fleet of planes" is not conducive to getting exactly what you want. But many requests for proposal that the government issues are precisely at this level. And another mistake you are making is thinking that the initial amount of the money that the government budgets for a particular project, based on its own limited knowledge of what it will take to complete the project, has any relation to the actual amount of money required to get the job done. If the government worker tasked with generating the contract specs was in a position to know with complete certainty what the job would require, then the contract specs could be written with much more detail, and the cost predictions would be better.

Comment Re:Make it illegal (Score 1) 1199

I suppose the counter to your argument is that citizens who work for the government are also receiving health benefits subsidized by you and I. So when health insurance premiums go up for all government employees because the costs of smokers are higher, then all citizens pay the price. Of course, you could also argue that one might expect those same smokers to not live quite as long, leading to smaller overall pension payouts. Maybe it turns out to be a wash, maybe not.

Incidentally, I would much rather have our government comprised of employees who aren't motivated by instant gratification. That same "instant gratification" tendency has a lot to do with the way our politicians approach decision-making. We shouldn't compound the issue by staffing all levels of government with people who think that way.

Comment Re:RMS thinks giving other people's shit away is g (Score 4, Interesting) 634

Bad example. Actually, as the owner of the dog, I have been potentially deprived of something - the market for that dog's sperm. There may only be a handful of people in this world who would be interested in buying the dog's sperm for breeding purposes. Since you have gone and sold it to one of those people, my ability to make money off of that sperm when I return from vacation has been irreparably harmed.

Incidentally, I do fall on the side of supporting file sharing, as long as a person does not try to resell a person's music/software/etc for monetary gain.

Comment Re:You get what you pay/wait for (Score 1) 491

Your second example of "top tier talent and give them as much time as they want" is not illustrative of the rule. The rule says pick two. Your example only picks one - it picks good, but with expensive and slow. What your example should say is "if you want really kick-ass software, you need to hire top tier talent who are really expensive, and lots of them, because they are the only ones who can do it fast"

"From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere." -- Dr. Seuss