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Comment: The points that convinced me... (Score 2) 199

by rbrander (#46800577) Attached to: Obama Delays Decision On Keystone Pipeline Yet Again

I'm all for the End of Oil. But the tar-sands vilification got so it pissed me off and I find myself in a surprising place - in the trench with companies I've never liked. What gets to me:

- Greenpeace created the "world's dirtiest oil" moniker with a large, sustained media campaign. I'm amazed it survived the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. I mean, really, it's worse than just spewing a fantastic amount of raw crude right into one of the world's most fecund ocean biomes and commercial fisheries, no way to clean it up at all? Greenpeace isn't a bunch of guys around a card table anymore, their budget is $300M/year. They love theatrical campaigns more than scientific ones; it's about what creates emotion, not real ecological results.

- Presuming (perhaps, a big presumption) that we keep on top of them with regulation, the open-pit mines are eventually filled back in and trees stuck on top - the ones where they've already done it are of course the first stop on the tour. Yes, the current mines are 200 sq. mi., "you can see them from space" ...where they look like a brown postage stamp on a green billiards table, the boreal forest being over 200,000 sq.mi. Know what else is 200 sq. mi. or so? New York City, which was a rich hunting and fishing land of the Manhattan Indians. It's not being restored to forest any time soon, because it provides living space for 8 million people, rather than 8000 Manhattans. The tar sands are providing what currently is an (unfortunate) necessity of life for 20 million people.

- Accounts vary (for some reason) but I tend to trust New Scientist Magazine as pretty objective - their figure was that it takes the release of 70kg of carbon to extract tar sands oil, compared to 50kg for conventional. But both barrels are then *burned* releasing 200-300kg (depends on gas/diesel/etc), so the total lifecyle increase of carbon is under 10%. Yes, that's bad, but concentrating all hatred of carbon onto one source of it is, again, theatre, not science. It's like banning 3000lb SUVs and feeling very virtuous as you buy a 2700 lb SUV.

- But above all, picking on these companies and their pipeline schemes is attacking the *producer*, not the consumption end. Speaking of "America is addicted to oil", how has that strategy worked out for the War on Drugs? It's funny, the same very liberal folks who will shake their heads at the raw stupidity of the Drug War ("all it does is drive up the costs and bring in more ruthless producers to fill the hole") imagine it will work on energy that everybody wants to buy.

I'm all for shutting down the tar sands - but by hitting the consumption end, with research and incentives for batteries, electric cars, thorium and fusion power plants...the latter having the much greater benefit of first killing off coal-powered electric generation, a greater greenhouse issue than all oil. But when the inflection point hits with electric transportation and oil consumption actually goes *down*, the most expensive sources (tar sands) will be the first ones shuttered. Speed the day.

PS: Yes, I'm from Calgary. But I don't work in oil/gas, nor does anybody close to me. This is not as much about Canada as you may imagine. Almost all the $200B invested up there is from American companies. We barely tax them - less for oil than Palin's Alaska or Cheney's Wyoming. Our cut was just jobs building it. My family pioneered Alberta for two generations before oil was discovered - and they'll be around after it's all gone. Good riddance; but the ridding has to *work*. To make it work, we have to change a whole technological base of a society, not just rail at scapegoats.

Comment: Yeah, that'll bring Utopia (Score 1) 207

by rbrander (#46800361) Attached to: Cody Wilson Interview at Reason: Happiness Is a 3D Printed Gun

Pretty funny to have this article right after the one about two large new corporations as "unelected superpowers". All the guns you can print won't materialize a factory for you to work in if unelected superpowers in our society decide to outsource your job. Waving a gun around your ISP offices won't make the oligopoly they're part of cut your Internet rates.

Threatening violence in the 30's didn't get poor people anything but far more violence used against them. (Turns out the Powers That Be have guns too, and way more of them.) Peaceful organizing of protests, labour unions, and voting blocs, on the other hand, shifted power (and money) from the old-millionaires-club of the 19th century to the new unfamiliar concept of the middle class. Granted, successful war against it has been waged for over 30 years, but it sure as hell won't be turned around because somebody starts handing out cheap guns.

Comment: Re:Isn't this story ancient? (Score 1) 160

Oh boy: grammar nazi vs actual nazis. Who'll win?

Yes, I know Baath weren't literally nazis. And this isn't actually about grammar. Oh, man, now you're going to call MY joke "bullshit". I hate to tell you, but "funny" has come and gone before the brain starts processing issues like the one you raised. I think the "funny" posts should be exempted from the usual slashdot arguments about the details.

Comment: Compaq P1210 (Score 2) 694

by rbrander (#46789741) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Tech Products Were Built To Last?

My Compaq P1210 catwarmer only died a few months ago, after daily use since early 1998. When the cat went to jump on top of the new LCD and simply landed on the desk behind, he was not amused. I put a pillow back there, and now it's his secret hiding place; he leans up against the back of the LCD for his catwarming needs. (This is Canada; as I write, a nasty mix of snow and rain is blustering around outside.)

Comment: A known pattern surrounding deadlines... (Score 1) 723

by rbrander (#46717589) Attached to: Can the ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers Be Believed?

If you tried to predict how many people would hand in term papers by looking at the numbers up to the last day before the paper is due, you'd surely conclude that there was no chance of nearly everybody handing in a term paper. But that's nothing on concluding how many people would file their tax return by the April due-date by looking at the submissions up to mid-March.
I mean, HONESTLY, it takes a few hours for most people to sign-up and everybody puts everything off until they have to.

Comment: Re:VBA ?!? (Score 1) 226

by rbrander (#46686229) Attached to: Should Microsoft Give Kids Programmable Versions of Office?

When I was a boy, we learned to program with *regular* BASIC that did not even have functions or objects, subroutines were called with GOSUB and no parameters, and it couldn't do recursion. And we still became Real Programmers and learned all that stuff later. So get off my lawn.

Frankly, I think Excel VBA is an *awesome* programming environment for teaching. It's hard to explain an object-oriented program in Python or Ruby because you first have to invent the object and put together the data structure. Since you start with simple objects, the program is hardly tighter or easier to read than doing the example without objects and the lesson that they are Good Things is not learned.

With a spreadsheet, the whole thing is already this gargantuan OO data structure that has to be explored like a video game. Spreadsheets show how there are different ways to solve problems than by linear step-by-step algorithms, you can just write a bunch of interacting functions in the cells. But then they run into limits to this functional programming, where you need procedural programming - and VBA steps in to show how a short macro can save a whole lot of cell-filling...and you can do the best VBA macros by knowing a lot of Excel data structures and working with them.

In a remarkably short time, you find students working with statements like

Range("Total_Monthly_Spend").Cells(CurrentCell).Interior.Color = RGB(255,0,0) ...which is a property of an object within an array of range objects that's part of a range object. And nonetheless, people understand it...because they've used spreadsheets for a long time and already understand ranges and cells and multiple kinds of cell properties.

I'm not saying I'd do anything with VBA that wasn't best handled by a spreadsheet for 90% of the functionality and only needed to add 10% more with VBA scripting. But small programs are the best to teach with.

Comment: Re:Users will be "Printer Trash" (Score 1) 400

Sorry. I wasn't voicing my opinion about "trailer" homes, just stating that a cultural stigma exists.

Writing about the people around his hometown of Winchester, Va, Joe Bageant described the whole pyramid of mobile, manufactured, modular, etc and the relative esteem each is held in. It's around these pages:

I'm glad for your situation, but it doesn't affect the current norms of value for appearance unless it becomes more common. It's not just about how you value something; it's how brave you want to be about others opinions about it. Clothing is held to the strongest rules. Sweat pants and shirt are more comfortable and much cheaper than a suit, but what do you have to wear to the job interview? (Dr. Robert Frank's example.)

Because of other's opinions, people choosing non-manufactured houses aren't just misplacing values, they're counting on getting the added expense back at sale time, because of other's valuations of it. A lot of early manufactured homes had shorter lifespans and the perception they won't resell well continues. I'm all for the industry, but it still has a climb ahead of it.

Comment: Users will be "Printer Trash" (Score 3, Insightful) 400

IN THEORY, factory-manufactured homes would be this huge step forward over built-on-the-spot. Buckminster Fuller devoted endless hours to the subject, and imagined deployment by zepplin or helicopter, dropping off the whole Dymaxion House. Robert Heinlein wrote sharply about what a car would cost if GM sent a team of automobile assemblers to build it in your driveway.

IN REALITY, the cheapness was a hidden sales-killer. Only those with the tightest budgets live in manufactured homes, with their constraints on shape, their reputation for short service life, and they are disparaged as "trailer trash".

Printed alternatives for factory-made products will have some compromises. I'm not aware of an ability to print leather, so the shoes, for instance, will probably be *visibly* printed shoes that will be known to cost less...and come with a stigma because they will "look cheap". ANY kind of clothing that can be seen to be made a cheaper way will always carry a stigma. Jeans in the early 70s went quickly from being chic because they were cheap and proletarian and showed anti-consumerist, non-bourgeois "hippie" values to...designer jeans that cost as much as the most conspicuous-consumption choices.

"Conspicuous consumption" is not regarded as a moral sin until it hits truly comical levels (see, Saddam's palaces or much of the Hamptons) within its own culture. Dr. Robert Frank of Cornell has devoted a lot of study to the subject, is one of the best even-handed reads about income inequality; showing that you have a little money, or just really take pride in appearance, is not a bourgeois evil, it's a constant in every society through history. Adam Smith wrote about there being some decent level of clothing below which even a tramp would not be seen on the streets of Edinburgh...he wrote in the 1700s when that level was better than half the population could have afforded 200 years earlier, because fabric production was already much-mechanized. Whatever is the cheapest way to make anything is in any culture is always going to "look poor" and carry stigma.

Printing cups and bowls? Could do, but notice that people actually keep two sets of china? You might print the kid's tableware, but you won't put it out for guests. Might was well put out placemats with the sign "we're poor".

People spend a lot of money on: homes, cars, appliances/electronics, furniture - as capital assets. And clothing and other items much on display for status as well as use, as consumable assets. Notice that none of these things are going to be popular as home-printed products. I'll happily buy a home printer, there's loads of things they will do: a box of just the right size to fit a storage space, a replacement part. I just walked around the house and came up with the TV trays, the TV stand, my CD cases, the picture frames, bookends, and a whole lot of containers. All acceptable if plain and utilitarian. Everything else, I'd want it to look like it wasn't produced the cheapest way possible.

Comment: It's the wrong topic of prison reform (Score 1) 914

Everybody is jumping on the horribleness of the proposal, nobody seems to be catching the very obvious: it's the wrong topic for a prison reformer.

I have to skim a lot of headlines myself - just reading the 1 sentence about the 4-year-old gives me willies; for all my liberal values and intellectual knowledge about death penalty as a surprisingly poor deterrent, I want evil vengeance on such animals myself. But it's folly to obsess on these cases, and this lady has terrible priorities.

We have very few needs for more awful punishments; while these disgusting cases do come up, they're very, very rare compared to the millions of less-serious crimes that cost the state huge sums to punish with current prisons.

If you want a great slashdot techie solution, you'll love this article in The Atlantic:

from a few years back about "imprisonment" with heavy use of the ankle-trackers that rule over your life. It points out that most of the people who commit most of the crimes that have the US prison system so huge are people with poor impulse control, bad habits, and bad companions. The ankle tracker can be configured to let them go to work, go home, not be off-path for more than minutes without police response, and importantly, out of the bars and the wrong parts of town. For quite a lot of the prison population, they could be paying a few payroll taxes that compensate for their $4K costs of monitoring and parole, instead of costing us as much as keeping a kid in Harvard (nearly every prisoner is $50K/year).

We may already be unaware that simple solitary confinement is something like the time-dilation drug, that it constitutes torture in its own right: ...torture that reduced Hezbollah hostage Terry Anderson to methodically smashing his head into a wall in a suicide attempt after about 18 solid months of it. He spent 7 years as a hostage in total, and could describe his mind slipping away every time they took him away from other prisoners and subjected him to solitary. John McCain wrote :
                  “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was
                    beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of
                    having an arm broken again.

So we're already doing THAT. It's horrible enough for about 99.999% of the worst of the worst. Can we focus on something cheaper and actually more effective for about 50% of the least of the worst and save a few dozen billion a year?

Comment: Comparison breaks down (Score 4, Insightful) 742

by rbrander (#46316887) Attached to: "Microsoft Killed My Pappy"

Let's skip over the hilarious hyperbole of comparing a business story to the prosecution of aggressive war (yes, managers love to *talk* about "crushing" opposition and evisceration and all that...all of which is hilarious hyperbole, too).

Taking it at face value - Japan had its whole regime torn down, warmongers mostly shot for war crimes, replaced with a whole different government and became a whole different culture that now votes heavily against any significant degree of aggressive militarization. If MS had *lost* that antitrust case and been broken up, managers scattered, their whole corporate culture changed, that would have been equivalent.

It wasn't just one thing - attempting to monopolize web browsers and make MS products the default choice for any web application was only a part of it. It was MS wanting to see all your product designs under non-disclosure before they'd offer to buy your company...and then the offer would be comically low and if you didn't take it, your general ideas would appear (badly) in a new Microsoft product that automatically took all your market share was Microsoft.

Columnist "Robert X. Cringely" had a good term for it: "sharp trading" - always on the edge of illegal, but hard and expensive to prove as such. Nobody does business with the sharp trader twice....unless they're over a barrel.

Microsoft's *power* to do this has been reduced, but not their business model and inclinations. I have no choice but to use Office at work, and so I'm an enthused Excel VBA programmer, you make the best of what you've got. (And besides, writing a large critical application as a glorified spreadsheet macro is rare; it's just great for one-shot solutions.) But the very idea of basing a larger business system around SharePoint, their various Visual programming languages, their C# ripoff of Java, strikes me as comical; I'd go with platforms they don't control every time. MS has a long and continuing history of using their most-deeply-engaged customers the way shepherds use sheep - by which I mean "keep shearing them every year" of course. Honest.

Chemist who falls in acid is absorbed in work.