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Comment: Re:They will move to a different charging model (Score 3) 263

by radtea (#48024551) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

If the amount of money made from the actual electricity falls too far then the cost will be transferred to a network connection costs.

It doesn't really matter how the accounting is done, utilities are going to have to charge more for power as they sell less of it, because their fixed costs are such a large proportion of their total costs. Fixed costs account for anywhere from 75 to 100% of plant costs: (the data in table 1 appear to mean "fuel cost" when they say "variable cost").

The utilities model is based on the notion that you can recover your capital costs (and more) over the lifetime of the plant. The rapid rise of solar in particular is putting that at risk, and utilities are caught between a rock and a hard place. They can fight by keeping power costs low, and lose, or they can fight by raising their power costs--however they want to do the accounting--and also lose.

Personally, I hope they raise the costs. It will make low-carbon alternatives like wind and solar more attractive.

Comment: Headline: "Force of nature gave life its asymmetry (Score 4, Interesting) 119

by radtea (#48001665) Attached to: Physicists Find Clue as To Why the DNA Double Helix Twists To the Right


The interaction of left-handed electrons with organic molecules is not the only potential explanation for the chiral asymmetry of life.. Meierhenrich favours an alternative â" the circularly polarized light that is produced by the scattering of light in the atmosphere and in neutron stars3. In 2011, Meierhenrich and colleages showed4 that such light could transfer its handedness to amino acids.

But even demonstrating how a common physical phenomenon would have favoured left-handed amino acids over right-handed ones would not tell us that this was how life evolved, adds Laurence Barron, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, UK. âoeThere are no clinchers. We may never know.â

The new work is interesting and important, but its primary significance is that it makes future work distinguishing the possible alternatives more challenging. It's also interesting because unlike the other two proposed mechanisms it is a result of the fundamental asymmetry in the weak force rather than an accidental boundary condition, so it implies that life everywhere is more likely than not to be right-handed, whereas the explanations involving magnetic fields will make a universe that's 50/50 right/left.

Comment: Re:"could be worse than Heartbleed" (Score 2) 316

by radtea (#47997499) Attached to: Flurry of Scans Hint That Bash Vulnerability Could Already Be In the Wild

The NIST page indicates that DHCP could be used to exploit it.

Any program that a) listens on a socket and b) calls out to a shell with an argument partially constructed from user input is vulnerable if the shell is unpatched bash. Apparently DHCP does this:

The only saving grace in this bug is that it's relatively easy to patch on client and server machines.

But there are a lot of things that aren't client and server machines that run linux and use bash. Routers, cable modems... all kinds of embedded systems. These things generally lag behind everything else. Firewalls will no-doubt be getting upgraded as we speak, but routers? Ultrasound machines in hospitals?

There is a lot of hard-to-patch hardware out there, and while I'm sure manufacturers are working on getting fixes out, it's going to be a long, hard, expensive process to ensure they're implemented.

We're incredibly fortunate that this bug is pretty easily fixable, but there may well be additional lurking issues, and there is always the chance we are going to find something that can't be easily fixed without breaking existing bash functionality. The probability of that is low, but the consequences would be enormously bad.

We've all heard the saying, "If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization." This has given us a glimpse of what a woodpecker might look like.

Comment: Re:We care why? (Score 5, Insightful) 50

by radtea (#47990321) Attached to: Water Discovered In Exoplanet Atmosphere

One would assume that it's a safe bet it's common in most other systems as well...

I guess if one was ignorant of the past 300 years of science one might do that. Otherwise, it would be too obviously stupid, as it would require believing something trivially and completely false: that what we assume is particularly likely to be true.

Why not just assume the sun moves around the Earth? It's obvious, isn't it?

In the present case, there is a whole bunch of stuff to be interested in.

1) There is always the possibility that the chemical environment or formation process of the Earth or solar system was anomalous in some way. For example, it has us in it, and as near as we can tell intelligence of the specifically human, universally representational, machine-building kind is fairly rare (there is no evidence for it elsewhere.) So given that, it is not implausible that there are other weird things about our solar system, and we should likely be cautious about assuming that other planetary systems are much like ours. The astonishing discovery of hot Jupiters, for example, is an instance where we were looking for something that we were almost certain didn't exist (simply because it was the only place our current instruments were sensitive) and found something, quite unexpectedly.

2) Even given that water is common (which we don't know until we've measured it) there is the possibility that it is almost always sequestered in dense, cloudy atmospheres, or in icy outer planets, or cometary halos, etc.

3) Even given that clear atmospheres exist (which we didn't know until these guys measured it) we don't know what their typical composition is (and we still don't, based on a population of one.)

4) Even given that clear atmospheres have water (which we now know) we are most interested in finding Earth-like planets, which means a clear atmosphere with water and oxygen (which is a key signature for life as we know it). Testing out various detection ideas and proving they work is a huge step forward even if the first planet they found has a hydrogen atmosphere.

So there, just off the top of my head, are a few reasons. Assumptions don't produce knowledge, which is why we shouldn't give them much credence. Observations do produce knowledge, which is why we should be excited about a new mode of observation finally bearing fruit.

Comment: Re:Clouds (Score 2, Informative) 50

by radtea (#47990279) Attached to: Water Discovered In Exoplanet Atmosphere

Assuming the cloud is water droplets and not methane or whatever.)

Clouds or other forms of haze can be made of all kinds of things, and we observe this in our solar system, so there is no reason to assume clouds or haze in exoplanet atmospheres are water vapour.

Remember, all we know is we can't get decent absorption spectra from them, so assuming anything about them would be saying, "We can't see anything, so we know it's water."

That's like saying, "I know that's a Muslim woman because they are completely covered and I can't see their face" (there have been many cases of men, mostly criminals and not always Muslim, wearing similar clothing because people seemed tuned up to make precisely this error of "I can't see it, so what I can't see must be X".)

Comment: Re:The simple fact that we can't talk about this.. (Score 1, Insightful) 206

by radtea (#47979455) Attached to: Study Links Pacific Coastal Warming To Changing Winds

This is far too politicized to be judged scientifically anymore.

The problem is that Warmists have politicized the science almost from the word "go". You can tell this because prominent political organizations like Greenpeace say on the one hand that climate change could be a civilization-ending event, and on the other hand we must not ever even think about using nuclear power to solve it, even though nuclear is the only proven, sustainable, economic and practical alternative to coal (this is even more true since the Japanese demonstrated practical extraction of uranium from sea water.)

Greenpeace says the only acceptable solutions to the problem of ACC are reduced consumption, de-industrialization, and various command-economy initiatives of a kind that would represent a massive expansion of government control. This is not surprising, because Greenpeace is a far-left political organization with no interest in the environment whatsoever (it was founded as a science-based organization, but changed to politics after a few years when some of its leaders recognized that politics was a lot more lucrative.)

So having made "the solution equal to the problem" in the public discourse, Leftist political organizations are now upset that Rightwingnutjobs are denying there is a problem. The rightwingers aren't responding to the science, they are responding to the Left's insistence that if there is a problem, it only has far-left solutions. That's obviously stupid (what the Righties are doing) but hardly surprising. Politics has always been a game of power and opposition, and the Right is taking the role of opposition in this case.

Me, I care primarily about the science, and defending the integrity of science from both sides. I acknowledge ACC is a problem, and I've arranged my life so my carbon footprint is tiny. I work at home in a mild climate, don't drive, almost never fly, etc. I support carbon taxes because the data show pretty clearly they work and have some nice side benefits, like reducing CO2 emissions. By "they work" of course I mean "they work to reduce income taxes and corporate taxes", which surely anyone who isn't some socialist nut-job would be in support of. But I also support the development of nuclear power and research into geo-engineering, because it would be utterly evil to believe we are risking the end of industrial civilization and not be open to all possible solutions.

But because the issue has been politicized since the '80's, I get accused of being a Denialist by Warmist nutjobs. It isn't enough that I agree a) there is a problem and b) support some economically defensible solutions. I have to quack the mantra of "the science is settled" (which it isn't and never can be) and "97% of climate scientists agree!" (which they don't and it's irrelevant) or I'm the enemy.

If Warmists cared about science, they would discuss the science, and reasonable policy alternatives. Instead, they rally people against pipelines and oppose nuclear power and complain that the science has become politicized, to which I say: they have only themselves to blame.

Comment: Re:Most rational people never believe in AGW (Score 4, Informative) 206

by radtea (#47978743) Attached to: Study Links Pacific Coastal Warming To Changing Winds

The winds are just moving the heat around a bit.

"Moving heat around a bit" has a tremendous impact on global climate. This is why ENSO in the south Pacific is so important: by moving heat around it changes global circulation patterns, which changes the overall energy balance of the Earth. This is why the simple achievement of getting reasonable agreement that anthropogenic CO2 is adding about 1.6 W/m^2 to the Earth's heat budget is such a huge scientific achievement, and while that conclusion is still subject to significant uncertainty: because adding heat changes the winds and currents which themselves influence the radiative balance. There are even (very unlikely) models in which adding sufficient heat causes global cooling due to increased transport of energy to the poles, where it radiates back into space more efficiently.

Climate is a non-linear, strongly coupled system. Treating it as if one could draw simple conclusions dismisses the complexity and difficulty of climate modelling. It also results in underestimating the uncertainties in models.

Any competent computational physicist (me, for example, but other people a lot smarter than me as well: will tell you that climate models are far less certain than their public, political proponents are claiming. This does not mean that "global warming is a hoax" or any such Denialist gibberish. It means that models are uncertain, and we should not get bowled over when they are subject to correction, even significant correction.

In the meantime, we can do some pretty universally agreeable things, like shift income and corporate taxes toward carbon taxes. After all, income and corporate taxes apply to something that is basically good--making butt-loads of money--while carbon taxes apply to something basically bad: burning irreplaceable fossil fuels and dumping garbage into the atmosphere. I guess anti-capitalist crusaders might oppose carbon taxes, but I can't think of any other reason to do so. If anyone is really in favour of keeping income and corporate taxes high, do feel free to make your case, though.

Comment: Re:Most rational people never believe in AGW (Score 5, Insightful) 206

by radtea (#47978659) Attached to: Study Links Pacific Coastal Warming To Changing Winds

It's like claiming at your murder trial that someone's death was natural, so therefore humans can't cause other humans to die.

While this isn't a bad way to put the Denialist reaction to this paper, it is worth pointing out that these guys have done more than produce one number: they have also produced predictions for regional variation that a) match the data and b) can't be replicated by a global forcing model. Since a critical component of the evidence for ACC is the regional variation of the predicted warming, this should at least give one pause.

Of course, letting it give one pause would be a disaster for members of the Warmist religion, whose mantra "The Science Is Settled" implies that any modification to the conclusion "almost all warming observed everywhere is the result of ACC" is equivalent to "the Denialists were right after all!"

This is nonsense, of course: the Denialists are wrong. Doubling the CO2 levels in the Earth's atmosphere are almost certainly increasing the effective insolation by about 1.6 W/m^2, which will likely have appreciable consequences on the climate.

However, how those consequences work themselves out is an extremely uncertain business, and no competent computational physicist puts nearly the trust in our unphysical climate models that Warmists do. This paper is a good example of how science (as opposed to politics and religion, which is what most of the public debate about ACC amounts to) works: they have squeezed a plausible hypothesis (that regional changes around the Pacific are explicable by global forcing) and found it questionable.

I expect we'll see a lot of work in the next decade on the interaction of natural variations and anthropogenic forcings, with Warmists continually playing a game of catch-up and Denialists continually repeating that the manifest uncertainty in our conclusions proves that "humans can't possibly have doubled the CO2 level" (or something like that... why Denialists believe humans can't have a global impact is beyond me.)

This is the damage to science done by Warmists: by claiming something that is not just false but actively anti-science ("the science is settled") they have encouraged their equally ignorant opponents to disbelieve science when it is working exactly as one would like it to.

Comment: Re:There are numerous other obvious flaws (Score 1) 275

by radtea (#47967991) Attached to: Nvidia Sinks Moon Landing Hoax Using Virtual Light

Unfortunately, each one that gets knocked down on its face means it's statistically more likely that the debunkers are right and the theorists wrong. We can go to infinity, but after ten or even 5 assertions wiped out with only basic experimentation, the chances of you having been right in the first place go beyond minuscule.

The problem is that conspiracy nuts don't understand statistics, or science. They are always asking for "proof" or "certainty" and in the the face of its lack they default to their own crazy idea.

But knowledge is not certain: it can always be updated in the face of new (possibly currently-unimaginable) evidence. So science, which creates knowledge, cannot create certainty of any kind. Not even falsification is certain, and people who ask for certainty are like alchemists of old, who rejected mere chemistry because it didn't give them the impossible capability of turning base metals into gold.

All that said, I have found it useful to ask Moon-landing-deniers who say, "The only source of light is the sun", "Then how can I see the ground?" If they acknowledge they can see the ground in the photos, they are pretty much forced to admit there is reflected light from the ground so they start looking pretty foolish when they repeat (as they often do) "The only source of light is the sun". It doesn't convince them of anything, but it does shut them up and make them go away.

Comment: Re:“We were, of course, disappointed,” (Score 4, Informative) 133

by radtea (#47967461) Attached to: "Big Bang Signal" Could All Be Dust

Which sounds hard, because what can you measure changes in besides the light, which would be affected by magnetic dust?

The spectral shape of the dust signal and the CMB signal are different, so multi-frequency analysis can be used to tease out the various effects. There are various technical reasons the BICEP2 team chose a single frequency (150 MHz) but additional measurements at different frequencies (353 MHz is mentioned in TFA) would allow untangling of the two, albeit with some loss in sensitivity. This sounds like the approach that will be taken in future by various teams investigating this.

The BICEP2 team got bitten by designing their experiment around a flawed theoretical understanding of the dust distribution in our galaxy, which is too bad, but this is the way science works: we publicly test our ideas, and let others see if what we've done can stand up to scrutiny. I've worked on experiments in the design phase where the design team has missed important backgrounds: it's easier than you'd think. And I once worked on an experiment that had been taking data for two years before it was found that there was a background process that precisely aped the signal (it had been missed originally because of a dropped sign in a calculation that caused two terms to nearly cancel when they should have added up.)

In the best case we find these sorts of things before we publish. In the worst case--such as this one--after.

Comment: Re:Need two data points (Score 1) 80

by radtea (#47967295) Attached to: Astrophysicists Identify the Habitable Regions of the Entire Universe

For all we now, dark matter (the most common form of matter), which we have never seen or studied, has variations as significant as normal matter, and therefore can support life, but only inside very radioactive areas, where they can feed.

Actually, we're pretty sure dark matter is relatively smooth in its distribution and does not form anything even remotely equivalent to stars and planets (we'd see the gravitational lensing if it did). Nor can we figure out any way it could self-interact in a way that would sustain imperfectly replicating objects but not end up in clumps that eventually form large agglomerations.

This is not to say that such things are impossible--the fact that we can't imagine something is not evidence for its non-existence--but likewise no one has been able to make the notion more than minimally plausible.

To repeat: the evidence is that dark matter does not clump, and so far as we know clumping (self-interaction) is required for self-replication. If you can come up with a way to make self-replication with almost no self-interaction, it would help. Such self-replicating systems would have to be extremely large (galaxy-size or larger?) as the size of a structure is generally inversely proportional to the strength of the coupling between it's parts.

With regard to the evidence for non-clumping dark matter, it comes in two forms. One is the direct observation of an absence of gravitational lensing by dark-matter clumps except on very large scales. The other is that if dark matter gets too clumpy it screws up the dynamics of normal matter on cosmic scales in such a way that stars and galaxies don't form in the way we observe them to.

Simply because we have "never seen" something does not mean we don't have evidence that can allow us to draw useful inferences.

Comment: Re:How do we know life can't adapt to it? (Score 1) 80

by radtea (#47967171) Attached to: Astrophysicists Identify the Habitable Regions of the Entire Universe

To get a sense of the energies involved: if you're a light-year way from a supernova, the neutrinos will kill you, even though they barely interact with matter at all. One light year is pretty close, but the gamma ray flux is comparable to the neutrino flux and forty orders of magnitude more deadly, so no, deep ocean life even at great distances from the exploding star will be boiled rather than fried, but it would still be dead.

Comment: Science is... (Score 3, Interesting) 793

by radtea (#47964567) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

...the discipline of publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment, and Bayesian inference.

Science is not a "method". Feyrabend was more nearly right than he realized when he said the cardinal rule of science is, "Anything goes": we can use any clever tricks that pass the tests to change the posterior plausibility of an idea, and they do not have to adhere to some philosopher's notions of method.

Science is a discipline, and like any other discipline has to be practiced to get good at it. Methods in science are like katas in fighting disciplines: valuable training devices, but not anything like sufficient to win a real fight.

Furthermore, as a discipline, science does not explain anything and has no content: the sciences (biology, physics, geology...) do, but not the overarching discipline of science itself.

The discipline of science can be practiced by anyone, although history has shown that education can help (try inventing any fighting discipline on your own and you'll see how much better off you'd be learning from someone else.) The scope of science is unlimited, and it is the only way of creating knowledge. It is not "scientism" to practice the discipline of science when testing ideas about human behaviour or society: it is just science.

Because science is Bayesian, it does not produce certainty. Bayes' rule cannot generate a plausibility of 0 or 1 for any proposition, and it identifies anyone who assigns a plausibility of 0 or 1 as being in a state of sin... err... error.

A proposition that has 0 or 1 plausibility cannot have its plausibility changed by further applications of Bayes rule, so it is beyond correction, opaque to any further evidence, cut off from the world it claims to apply to.

The technical term for a belief held in such an erroneous fashion is "faith".

Comment: Re:Just in time for another record cold winter (Score 4, Insightful) 200

by radtea (#47964415) Attached to: Hundreds of Thousands Turn Out For People's Climate March In New York City

Again, it the trends, not individual weather on any specific year that matters

Except that after every single warm snap or hurricane the same people who were smugly reminding us that "weather is not climate" are busy pointing to the event as "evidence" of AGW, which it is not. Distributions are evidence, events are not, because the science shows that the AGW/no-AGW distributions substantially overlap in our current situation, particularly with regard to extreme weather events.

So only a person who does not understand science and statistics would ever suggest that any single event or small handful of events is worth mentioning as evidence either way. And yet Warmists are always out in force after any given extremum telling us it "proves" AGW.

Don't get me wrong: AGW is real, although there are some pretty well-proven techniques for reducing it (notably carbon taxes, which also have the benefit of reducing corporate and income taxes, so you'd have to be some anti-capitalist nut-job to oppose them). But anyone who ever opens their mouth to point at a single event as if it was somehow worth the bother of discussing is an anti-science wing-nut, and adds only heat, not light, to the discussion.

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling