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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.

Comment: Two tools I made for this... (Score 2) 146

by njvack (#38077346) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Statistical Analysis Packages For Libraries?

OK, this is a horribly shameless self-plug, but hey, it's directly relevant. I started two projects aimed at tracking reference statistics: Libstats, which is PHP-based and open-source. I'm also one of the founders of Gimlet, which is hosted and closed-source, but provides a similar workfow.

If you're looking to spend some time delving in code, Libstats is looking for maintainers -- I'm no longer working in libraries, so it's largely orphaned.

Comment: Re:Blood tests (Score 3, Insightful) 253

by njvack (#37899168) Attached to: Re-evaluating the Benefits of Cancer Screening

Presumably for the reasons enumerated in the summary. Too many costly, and quite frankly terrifying, false positives.

More importantly, it's important that if you screen positive, the confirmatory tests and treatment yield a better outcome than doing nothing would have. Lots of people can point to a friend or relative for whom early detection treatment saved their life; however, if someone dies from the treatment of a cancer that would never have killed them, how will you ever know?

Cancer is dangerous, but it's important to remember that cancer treatments are dangerous as well. People can and do die from complications from surgery and chemotherapy.

Comment: Re:Perfectly reasonable. (Score 1) 1019

by njvack (#37552740) Attached to: Healthcare Law Appealed To Supreme Court

Except the Constitution explicitly gives congress the power to collect taxes.

The funny thing is that the "individual mandate" is actually structured as an income tax ($695/year or 2.5% of income, whichever is greater) -- having health insurance merely exempts you from the tax. There are no special criminal penalties for not having insurance. See this article for more details.

It is not at all clear that it has the power to "mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die".

Well, if you're a minor, you'll be covered by Medicaid. If you're a senior, you'll be covered by Medicare. So it's more accurate to say the government is "giving a tax exemption to people between the ages of 18 and 65, if they buy an expensive product from private insurance companies." Which is pretty definitely in their power.

Constitutional arguments against the mandate tend to be based on an incomplete understanding of the law. Which, given media coverage, is not surprising.

"You need tender loving care once a week - so that I can slap you into shape." - Ellyn Mustard