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Comment: On my small SaaS business... (Score 2) 91

by njvack (#49076473) Attached to: Advice on How to Start an IT Business (Video)

For what it's worth, I've been co-owner of a small software-as-a-service business focused on libraries for the last five years. A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post on our experience and financial situation.

Basic summary: by keeping costs low and our expectations reasonable, we're thriving even without a huge revenue stream.

Comment: Re:With carbon-nuetral energy, sequestration (Score 1) 363

by njvack (#48689473) Attached to: Trees vs. Atmospheric Carbon: A Fight That Makes Sense?

Ah, I missed the "day" and "year" parts (should have made those ALL CAPS too, I guess), so we'll need closer to 500,000 trees, assuming "several" really is 50. Still, I think the numbers have enough orders of magnitude (trees are cheap) that we're still looking fairly competitive.

Comment: Re:With carbon-nuetral energy, sequestration (Score 1) 363

by njvack (#48689429) Attached to: Trees vs. Atmospheric Carbon: A Fight That Makes Sense?

Want to absorb 50 POUNDS of carbon a year? Plant a tree. Want to absorb several TONS of carbon per day? Then build a single carbon sequestration plant on the edge of town.

Assuming your numbers are correct... how many is several? Let's say 50. That's a pretty generous "several." So, you're looking at 100,000 pounds of carbon a day. That's a lot! To match that with trees, it would take... 2000 trees.

I'm willing to bet that I can obtain and plant 2,000 trees cheaper than you can build a carbon sequestration plant. (I'm willing to bet this is true for 20,000 trees, too. Maybe 200,000.) Your plant is made of concrete and steel, both of which produce carbon emissions. This page suggests that I'll need somewhere in the neighborhood of 11-12 acres of land for my 2k trees (for reference, Central Park is somewhere north of 800 acres), so that's pretty manageable. In addition, I'm willing to bet I can operate my trees for less money than you can operate your sequestration plant. Then, in X years, I can if I choose harvest these trees and turn them into lumber -- this, of course, does not release (all of) their carbon into the atmosphere. And I know this is subjective, but I tend to think trees (even tree farms) are more pleasant than industrial plants.

I'm not saying carbon sequestration plants are horrible ideas, but that trees probably win economically if the numbers you cite are in the right orders of magnitude.

Comment: Obligatory Neko Case (Score 1) 395

by njvack (#44475949) Attached to: The Case of the Orca That Killed Its Trainer

You know they call them killer whales
But you seem surprised
When it pinned you down to the bottom of the tank
Where you can't turn around
It took half your leg and both your lungs
And I craved I ate hearts of sharks, I know you know it

I'm a man man man man, man man man eater
But still you're surprised, 'prised, 'prised, when I eat ya

-Neko Case, People Gotta Lotta Nerve

Comment: Re:Charging authors is not much better... (Score 2) 61

by njvack (#42886637) Attached to: PeerJ, A New Open Access Megajournal Launches

For what it's worth, I was tangentially part of an effort in the University of Wisconsin Libraries to publish the open-access Journal of Insect Science. After perhaps a year of doing that, we looked at the actual costs and found that, IIRC, $30-$100/page are not actually unreasonable costs. Yes, there's a large variance.

"How," you ask, "could it possibly cost so much to produce an open-access journal? The author is working for free! The reviewers are working for free!" Well:

  • The reviewers are generally not particularly excited to spend their time reviewing papers. They often say "sure" and then just never do the work. So you need to keep on them, and swap them out for other editors when they flake out. You need to do this without giving them a sad.
  • Different reviewers have different areas of expertise. So you need to match the content of the article to suitable reviewers. Your editor should do this, but probably isn't getting paid for that effort, and so you may need to keep on him/her to get that to actually happen.
  • Your authors don't know how to use word processing tools or graphic design tools. You'll get horribly-formatted documents, figures as 36-DPI .GIFs, strange-looking Powerpoint god-knows-whats, and gigantic tables that will never look good anywhere. Your job is to either guess at what the authors meant to do, reformat materials, and send them back for approval, or get your authors to re-do their stuff.
  • Authors also routinely ignore things like word count limits and organization guidelines.
  • While you're primarily targeting the Web, a good-looking print copy is still widely-valued. So you probably need to handle your layout nightmares twice.
  • Sometimes, people want to do Something Innovative with regard to data vis. After all, you're online, so you should be able to make this interactive, right? So, you need to decide if you want to try and implement this innovative thing (and what does that look like in print, anyhow?) or say "no, sorry, we can't make your research look super neat."
  • Online repositories work best with specially-marked-up XML. There are tools and services that will do this for you, but they all cost time, money, or both. XSLT to turn your XML into HTML or PDF can be made to automatically give you a product that is not quite nice enough to present to the outside world -- there are usually some special cases that want hand-massaging.
  • Both faculty and grad students can, at times, act like complete jerks and require a bunch of time in damage-control.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The bottom line was that we found PLOSOne's costs to be broadly reasonable (also: did you know you can essentially say "I don't want to pay" and... not pay?). Maybe it would be possible to undercut them by a factor of two with real work in process management, but generally: there's a bunch of grunt work turning researchers' paper submissions into a good quality journal. And you could get really fast at formatting, but time for catherding and massaging egos (so you don't lose your reviewers) scales linearly with the number of articles you publish.

Comment: Re:This is NOT Fracking... (Score 2) 168

by njvack (#42578395) Attached to: Geothermal Power Advances

So worries about "cooling off the Earth" are a tad ridiculous.

The big problem isn't cooling off the whole earth (which does have a truly staggering amount of heat stored in its crust and mantle). The problem is cooling off the area in the immediate vicinity of your borehole so that it's no longer hot enough to do useful work for you; since rock doesn't have particularly good thermal conductivity, this sadly happens a lot faster than you'd like. The power plant at The Geysers produces about half the electrical power that it did when it opened, as it depleted the geothermal energy on a local scale.

You can keep installing new power plants, but power plants are kind of expensive so that approach is problematic.

Comment: Re:This is NOT Fracking... (Score 3, Informative) 168

by njvack (#42578329) Attached to: Geothermal Power Advances

I thought of that too. Does anyone have any numbers on how many million years we can suck heat out of the ground before it becomes a problem?

Actually, a physics prof at UCSD did a pretty thorough analysis of geothermal energy. The verdict: there are places in the country where it's great, but in the majority of the USA, it just isn't a particularly dense resource, so the energy return on investment (you need to dig a whole lot of really deep holes and stick a whole lot of pipe in the ground) is pretty meh.

It probably will (and should) be developed more, but will remain a niche source of energy county and world-wide.

Comment: Why this matters... (Score 1) 130

by njvack (#42247255) Attached to: Altered Immune Cells Help Girl Beat Leukemia

In case you're thinking "yeah, cancer, big deal. People die every day" I welcome you to watch Anthony Griffith on The Moth describe his personal experience with leukemia.

WARNING: NSFW -- both for (IIRC) some rather strong language and the uncontrollable weeping that will consume you for the rest of the day.

Comment: Don't rely on a technical solution! (Score 1) 284

by njvack (#40443269) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Low Cost Way To Maximize SQL Server Uptime?

Yes, get some decent hardware that won't give you too much trouble -- but equally important: Set up procedures to ensure that when your database is down, you can still get work done. Test those procedures periodically; make sure your staff can run the restaurant when the system is down.

Hardware fails. Software fails. Unless you're willing to spend lots (and you've said you aren't), you're not going to build and test something ultra-reliable. You don't want your entire business on hold (with a restaurant full of customers) because some part of your POS has decided to crap itself.

Comment: Re:So like the Soviet Union? (Score 1) 716

Do you really think the solution to "rich people want to leave for somewhere more friendly" is "lets go after these guys"?


Our citizens have paid a lot of money for a substantial infrastructure, because that allows us to live and grow businesses safely. Would you have become rich without the roads and rails that let you get to your place of business, and your products to customers? If the police didn't maintain order? If the military wasn't around to keep safe, predictable boundaries? If you hadn't gotten that grant that got you started, or that University education?

If you use our expensive shit in order to get rich, and then leave the country to avoid paying the taxes that finance our expensive shit, that's freeloading. Our society should set up policies that discourage freeloading; otherwise, what's to prevent every rich person from doing the same?

Comment: Re:Once space elevators are built on both planets, (Score 1) 238

by njvack (#39422345) Attached to: Elon Musk: Future Round-Trip To Mars Could Cost Under $500,000

(no slight to the Virgin / Scaled composites gang, but they're not doing heavy lift at the moment, but what they're doing is Steerman bi-plane rides on a much more awesome scale.)

Technically, they aren't. They certainly plan to do that, but no one's currently flying commercial suborbital rocket missions.

The meat is rotten, but the booze is holding out. Computer translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."