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Comment Re:Before a human walks on Mars... (Score 1) 285

Mars is fascinating, but any attempts to spend tax-dollars on going there under the pretext of "humanity running out of room" must be rejected as mere pretence.

Who said the desire to go to Mars was about running out of room? For most of the people who are genuinely serious about visiting Mars, it's about exploration and science. We've learned an impressive amount about Mars by sending robots there, but a single trip by a small team of well trained people could learn orders of magnitude more.

Comment Re:Not random: Faces Aligned and Similarly Sized (Score 1) 103

I bet if you were allowed to do the same alignment and scaling for bird song you could average the now aligned audio to get something like birdsong.

I am not nearly so confident. Maybe if you averaged the song of many birds of the same species you could get some kind of recognizable song out. But what's going to happen when you average the song of a chickadee, a robin, a meadowlark, and a crow? There's simply no way of aligning them so they produce a coherent combination; they're just too different.

Comment Re:Only a problem if it's not anonymous (Score 2) 187

The problem with anonymizing the samples completely is that it makes it impossible to add new information about the donors' health since birth, which would make the samples much more useful for researchers. Totally anonymous samples could be used, for example, to look at gene frequencies, but not a lot more. The greatest value to researchers would be if they could associate the samples with subsequent health information so that they could look for genetic markers associated with specific diseases. That can only happen if it's possible to connect the samples to their donors' health records.

The ideal approach would be to have a completely trustworthy organization hold the samples, associate them with the health records, and then anonymize the samples before providing them to researchers. That would let you have the benefits of the research without the drawbacks of destroying people's privacy. The question is whether we trust our government to do that.

Comment Re:they serve a purpose (Score 2) 439

The dealers already pay Chevy it's price.

That's not entirely true, because the dealer's pricing isn't that simple, either. They're typically buying the cars from the dealer on credit and get a discount if they pay back faster than the terms of the credit agreement. Manufacturers will also offer incentives to the dealer, like a substantial bonus if they meet a challenging sales target. The net result is that the dealers may sometimes make deals on individual cars that don't appear to make sense given the "dealer price" but that do make sense when you look at all the discounts and incentives they're getting.

Comment Re:You're the problem (Score 4, Insightful) 497

I feel the best comments can and should declare the intent of a block of code, rather than drilling down into the mechanics of the code.

Exactly. There's a lot of code that needs comments like "fixes bug XXX". If you had to fix a nasty bug and it took you a day to get the details right, let the next poor sap know what you were doing. Otherwise, he's likely to reintroduce the bug by tearing out this apparently useless code.

Another good use of comments is to summarize a large block of code so that people don't have to dig into it to figure out what it does. For example, it's good to document functions at the top with enough detail that somebody would know how and when to call them without having to read through the whole thing.

Comment Re:You should have expected this. (Score 1) 132

Criminals and terrorists are usually too smart to voluntarily give their DNA to anybody.

Terrorist and some professional criminals perhaps, but they make up a small fraction of the criminals out there. There are plenty of petty criminals who wind up in a life of crime because they can't hack regular employment. There are even more people who commit crimes because they're temporarily blinded by rage, greed, or drugs into doing something that they would never do if they were in complete control of their faculties.

Comment How do we get one (Score 1) 151

Yeah, it would be great to be able to launch fuel from the moon, but how easy is it to get a fueling station there? My intuition is that it would take a lot more resources to build a moonbase capable of sending up the fuel for trips to Mars than it would to just ship everything for the trip to Mars directly from the Earth. This approach only makes any kind of sense if you plan on going to Mars a lot- or if you're just looking for a convenient excuse to build a moonbase.

Comment Re:Really...? (Score 4, Informative) 138

What do they do?

There are plenty of things to do in the company. For one thing, they have to have a bunch of people trying to convince advertisers to buy space. I assume that's the main reason to have a bunch of scattered offices; they have to have the people selling the ads where the buyers are. They also have a bunch of developers working on new features, like their new "moments" thingy, and presumably on better ways of targeting their ads. Finally, they have to have customer service and support people to do things like responding to abuse complaints.

Comment Re:This wasn't an engineering decision... (Score 2) 569

I'm willing to bet not much of that pollution comes from VW diesels, in America.

That depends on what you consider to be "not much". There were about 500,000 cars affected by this issue in the US, and they are producing as much as 40 times the legal limit. That would mean they produce as much pollution as 20 million cars that meet the emissions standards, which is a meaningful percentage of the 250 million or so cars on the road in the US. That doesn't make them the dominant source of pollution or anything, but it does mean they're contributing far out of proportion to their numbers. They're certainly not something we can afford to ignore.

That figure of up to 40x the legal limit also shows why it's so important to catch cheaters. Pollution controls can bring emissions down to far below the level they were before the controls were implemented, but that also means a comparatively small number of cheaters can have a disproportionate effect on total pollution.

Comment Re:Speaking as an engineer... (Score 1) 569

The test doesn't rely entirely on trust; it also relies on there being a substantial penalty for getting caught cheating. That's an important reason not to reduce the fines VW is facing. They and other car companies need to know that trying to cheat the emissions tests has real consequences.

Comment Re:This wasn't an engineering decision... (Score 2) 569

but if the current regulations are already to a point where the amounts being released have a negligible impact on health, pollution, etc. then making them more strict does not amount to much real good, but adds potentially significant costs.

But we aren't at that point yet, so you're engaged in sophistry. The best recent estimate is that air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year in the United States, of which about 53,000 come from road transportation- more than any other source. FWIW, that means that pollution from cars and trucks kills more people every year than traffic accidents. So we still have a very long way to go before we can claim we've reached standards that make automotive exhaust safe.

Comment Re:Speaking as an engineer... (Score 5, Informative) 569

It seems to me that at least some of this finger pointing should go towards the idiots who created the circumstance where the item under test was informed it was under test.

It doesn't actually work that way, i.e. the EPA doesn't tell the car that it's being tested now. What happens, though, is that the tests are under carefully controlled conditions in the interests of reproducibility. The car is placed on a chassis dynamometer and run at a constant speed. VW programmed their engine computer to look for a combination of constant speed and zero steering input, which would never happen during normal driving, and switched into low emissions mode when it detected that combination.

Comment Re:23% of the company (Score 1) 471

If ozone's so nasty, why all the hysteria about the missing ozone layer

On the off chance that you actually are this ignorant and aren't just trolling, the difference is that we don't have to breathe the ozone layer. Ozone is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it burns your lungs at quite low concentrations, so it's bad to breathe it. On the other hand, it absorbs some nasty UV radiation that would otherwise cause problems like skin cancer and cataracts (and damaging crops and wildlife, so don't think sunscreen is an adequate substitute). The ozone layer is conveniently located in the stratosphere, where we don't have to breathe it and would suffocate from low pressure long before the ozone could do much damage anyway. So we get the benefits of protection from UV without having to worry about lung damage. Ground level ozone, though, gives us all the problems of destroying our lungs at a concentration that's too low to do much good for UV protection.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.