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Comment: I actually have some sympathy for the utilities. (Score 5, Insightful) 364

by sbaker (#49129285) Attached to: The Groups Behind Making Distributed Solar Power Harder To Adopt

The thing is that with net metering, solar power users are effectively using the grid as a giant battery that they charge up during the day and discharge during the night.

They aren't paying for use of that battery, but the utility company is still expected to maintain it. If you're not buying electricity from them, then they are providing that service for no pay - and that's not a sustainable business model.

It's not a problem when only a microscopic percentage of users have net-metered solar power - but if a large number of people do it, then there could be a huge problem...and if there is ever more daytime solar power being generated (eg on cloudy days in winter) than is being consumed - then there will be a GIGANTIC problem to resolve - and that's going to require massive investments that they won't have.

So I do have *some* sympathy for them. They should, at some point, be allowed to charge for the service of effectively storing your power for you...although we're not remotely close to that point right now.

Comment: MediaWiki. (Score 4, Interesting) 343

by sbaker (#49075833) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Version Control For Non-Developers?

My wife and I use MediaWiki! Seems kinda silly - but you can configure it to accept all kinds of file types - and you have all of the nice stuff like discussion pages and categories to help you to organize them.

The huge advantage is that it's insanely easy to use. Super-light on features also...but,'s a thought, right?

    -- Steve

Comment: Dangerous assumption. (Score 1) 76

by sbaker (#48990503) Attached to: The Algorithm That 'Sees' Beauty In Photographic Portraits

The thing is that people who take the most carefully lit, composed and focussed images (which is what the computer is using as it's metric) are professional photographers. They use models who are generally considered "beautiful". So unless you're very careful about your initial data set, you're going to come to some very bad conclusions...and that's what seems to have happened here.

So, this is bogus science...badly done.

    -- Steve

Comment: Cut the cord. (Score 1) 244

by sbaker (#48973531) Attached to: Over the past 10 years, my TV-watching has..

With the advent of Netflix and it's ilk, I can now watch TV on my schedule. I don't have to watch crap because I need to veg out for a bit and that's all that's on...and I don't have to watch TV when I don't really feel like it because I don't want to miss an episode.

So watching TV has become a proactive decision - like deciding to go to a movie - and not something that just fills in time.

Now I probably watch no more than an hour a night - and what I watch is only really good shows. I don't waste 10 minutes out of every 30 watching adverts - and I never watch a moment of TV that I'm not really enjoying. I get my news fix from NPR on my 20 minute commute - so that's taken care of. I read far more than I ever have - and the Kindle reader runs on my PC, my tablet and my phone - so I can pick up a book and read it in the odd minutes when I really don't have anything else to do.

This has proven to be an amazingly good thing...and in the age of the Internet - we should expect nothing less.

    -- Steve

Comment: God's Debris...nuff-said? (Score 1) 958

by sbaker (#48973437) Attached to: Science's Biggest Failure: Everything About Diet and Fitness

Don't get me wrong, I love Dilbert and Scott did an amazing job with that cartoon series. But his science credentials are really, really bad. His book, "God's Debris" is full to the brim with nonsense wrapped up as science.

So he's simply not someone I can trust with scientific claims. I honestly don't think anyone should care what he says in this regard...just because he draws fantastic cartoons doesn't give him any special platform for saying this kind of stuff.

    -- Steve

Comment: Re:It'll never happen (Score 2) 333

by sbaker (#48928371) Attached to: The discovery of intelligent alien life would be met predominantly with...

Negative energy isn't antimatter. If it was, then colliding anti-matter with regular matter would produce a soft 'poof' sound rather than a gigantic explosion. E=mc^2 applies to doesn't have negative mass - so it doesn't have negative energy either.

Negative energy means your idea doesn't work.

Comment: How are these things "bots"? (Score 3, Informative) 41

by sbaker (#48868065) Attached to: Microbots Deliver Medical Payload In Living Creature For the First Time

So it looks like these things are basically zinc-lined sensors, no guidance, no controls, no electronics, no communications or intelligence of any kind.

How is that a "bot"?

The gizmag report (second link in the story here) has a very beautiful picture of something which looks like a proper robot...but the other two links show simple cylinders.

I could imagine it being a motor for a bot...but it's nowhere *REMOTELY* near being an actual robot, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Look...this is an impressive achievement, it's very clever and I'm sure it has some very neat applications - but let's not over-sell it?


Comment: It's not about the presenter. (Score 4, Insightful) 227

by sbaker (#48806363) Attached to: Lawrence Krauss On Scientists As Celebrities: Good For Science?

Einstein and Feynman were both nobel prize winners and Hawkins has Sir Isaac Newton's mathematics chair - we probably shouldn't downplay their achievements!

Carl Sagan was on the slippery slope. He certainly did some good science - but he's hardly up there with the previous three. Tyson has a few decent papers to his name, and his career isn't over yet - but I don't think he's coming close to the others in terms of science achievements.

Einstein was the world's worst communicator. Feynman and Hawkins are better - Sagan was astounding and Tyson may be yet better.

I suppose we might be concerned that there is a pattern here. We're taking people who are better communicators in preference to those who really know their stuff.

But honestly, does it matter? The presenter of a show reads from a script - (s)he is basically an actor. If the author of the script sticks to an accurate portrayal of what's written by the hard-core scientists - then why not pick an engaging personality to present it to us?

The critical part of the cycle is the person who decides WHICH science gets discussed. De Grasse Tyson is often talking about tacheons, wormholes and white holes and other claptrap that's horribly speculative, wildly unusupported, and very probably untrue. As an astrophysicist, he should know better - but as a TV presenter, he does a reasonable job of reading the script.

I'd prefer to have a complete non-scientist who is a supreme communicator be given a script written by good script writers from material handed to them by the hard core scientists behind the scenes - than to rely on a lower-tier scientist (or a high-tier scientist with poor communications skills) to do the entire job.

    -- Steve

+ - Ancient Viruses Hacked Human Brains-> 1

Submitted by giulioprisco
giulioprisco (2448064) writes "A new study from Lund University in Sweden indicates that inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterize the human brain. The Lund study shows that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain — over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery. In particular, the retroviruses seem to play an important role in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when."
Link to Original Source

+ - 300 Stanford professors call for full fossil fuel divestment->

Submitted by mdsolar
mdsolar (1045926) writes "Some 300 professors from Stanford University, California, have called for the school to fully divest from the fossil fuels industry, arguing that the magnitude of climate change calls for a thorough commitment, not a partial solution.

In May last year, the board of trustees at the prestigious university decided not to make any more direct investments in coal mining companies, stating that the energy source is polluting and no longer necessary given the clean alternatives now available. The school also said it would divest from the holdings it currently owns in such firms.

However, professors at the university are now calling for the school to get rid of all fossil fuel investments.

A letter from the professors, which has been published in the Guardian, notes that companies currently own fossil fuel holdings sufficient to produce 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – five times the amount recommended if global warming is to remain with the 2C limit, past which scientists have warned that the effects of climate change will become more extreme and unpredictable."

Link to Original Source

+ - AI experts sign open letter pledging to protect mankind from machines->

Submitted by hypnosec
hypnosec (2231454) writes "Artificial intelligence (AI) experts from all across the globe are signing an open letter urging that AI research should not only be done to make it more capable, but should also proceed in a direction that makes it more robust and beneficial all the while protecting mankind from machines. Future of Life Institute, a volunteer-only research organization, has put out an open letter to ensure that the progress in the field of AI does not grow out of control – an early attempt to draw everyone’s mind towards the probable dangers of a machine that could enslave humankind. The letter’s concluding remarks read: “Success in the quest for artificial intelligence has the potential to bring unprecedented benefits to humanity, and it is therefore worthwhile to research how to maximize these benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”"
Link to Original Source

Comment: Re:A Simple Retort (Score 5, Interesting) 556

You have that a little wrong. God *can* (in principle) be proven. If the sky breaks open, choirs of angels break forth, a 10km-long arm reaches down from the skies and an 8km golden-haired, bearded face looks down upon humanity and utters words of unshakable truth...then God is proven.

God cannot, however, be DISproven. It's an unfalsifiable hypothesis. So, you're right, science cannot ever say, definitively, that god doesn't exist. It also can't disprove the hypothesis that the universe was created by an invisible pink unicorn...or any other random idea that humans might come up with that entails a literally omnipotent/omniscient being.

But that COMPLETELY misses what this is all about. The original WSJ article is a non-scientist claiming that science has indeed proven the existence of god. That's quite clearly incorrect...and I think you'd have to look very hard to find a competent scientist in the fields involved who'd agree with that claim. So WSJ (essentially) published something that's completely untrue, incorrect, misleading - just plain *WRONG*...and journalistic integrity says that they should now be working very hard to fix that...not rejecting a perfectly sensible response from someone who knows exactly what he's talking about.

So bad on WSJ...and at least we can make that badness clear by discussing it here.

Comment: Re:Yawn (Score 4, Insightful) 556

When you publish something controversial (which the original article most certainly was) and take the word of someone who is self-evidently not an expert in the field about which he's writing - you really have to do one of two things:

a) Do careful fact-checking on the article and publish it as 'The Truth'...or...
b) Publish it as an op-ed piece - essentially saying "This is just the opinion of this guy".

This clearly wasn't (a) - so WSJ doesn't have to admit error or look bad in the eyes of the public. However, when accepting op-ed pieces, they need to be acutely aware of bias - and when a well-written response is provided - especially by an expert in the field - it deserves equal coverage...and that's where they failed.

I can actually understand them not wanting to publish this response as a "letter to the editor" kind of thing - but they really *should* commission an author with scientific credentials to write an opposing-view op-ed piece of more substantial weight.

Comment: Re:Hot Glue Guns (Score 1) 175

by sbaker (#48608953) Attached to: 3D Printer?

I have a couple of 100 watt laser cutters. They cut 3/16" plywood really nicely - and 1/2" plywood with difficulty...providing they are properly cleaned and focussed and cutting at around 2000mm/minute. A 2 watt laser...well, draw your own conclusions. There is no magic going on. To cut wood that thick, it has to move VERY slowly and probably make multiple cut passes.

The Blu-ray laser approach *IS* great for thin materials though. 1/16" balsa, paper, cloth, that kind of thing. So this is a useful contraption - I just wish they wouldn't over-sell's just not that good.

Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale down the beach. -- S.C. Johnson