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Comment So what has he done? (Score 5, Informative) 350

According to, since Obama took office:

* The EPA released the Clean Power Plan — the first-ever carbon pollution standards for existing power plants,
* The U.S. increased solar electricity generation by more than ten-fold, and tripled electricity production from wind power.
* The DOI has approved over 50 wind, solar, and geothermal utility-scale projects on public or tribal lands.
* Obama put forth initiatives to help develop principles for establishing energy corridors; encourage the use of designated energy corridors in western states; expedite the review of transmission projects in non-western states; and improve the overall transmission siting
* Created the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
* Proposed the toughest fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles in U.S. history
* Finalized the first-ever fuel economy standards for commercial trucks, vans, and buses for model years 2014-2018.
* The EPA proposed two new rules in 2014 under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program to curb HFC's.
* Released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions that builds on progress to date and takes steps to further cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems.
* Committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations, including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, by 2025.
* Directed federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as building energy use and fuel consumption by 28 percent by 2020 and increase deployment of renewable energy. ...and on and on.

What's the common thread here? Well, things Obama *can* do (EPA regulations, federal programs) he did - what required House & Senate to write laws, he made proposals - largely in agreement of the relevant industry groups...but if no laws are written as a result of all this work - is that Obama's fault?

Comment That's not why... (Score 1) 175

You take a 1000 page story for adults - keep 100% faithful to the original story - spread it over three episodes - and it's great.

You take a 200 page story for children - market it to adults, rewrite half of it, kludge in new characters - stretch it over three episodes - and it sucks.

Why are we looking for deeper reasons?

Comment Re:But but but but (Score 1) 211

I agree that we are closing in on a time when perhaps people can make stuff for themselves...and in the case of software projects, we're don't have "manufacturing costs" anyway - once your software is "developed" and "tested" - you're done.

But we somehow need to pay people who are smarter (or more persistent) than we are to design those slog through the 43 failed write the code, to promote the idea...and a Kickstarter is as good a way as any to make that happen. I've paid for several Kickstarter projects where the results of the projects are given away for free whether you pledged or not...but without the pledges, the work can't happen - so in a sense that doesn't matter. - is a great example of that.

Earning money in an environment where people make their own physical objects demands a system like Kickstarter to pay for detailed design to get done.

Comment I have run 6 Kickstarters so far... (Score 1) 211

My background:

I've run 6 Kickstarters with my wife to launch and expand our family business. The first project failed to make goal because we didn't understand that Kickstarter doesn't deliver an audience. We learned and the next four similar projects succeeded spectacularly - and now we have a viable business - with zero debt and nobody owning a share of our business but us. We have lots of very happy customers, lots of expensive equipment - and around a thousand very happy supporters. We also had one attempt to diversify into a different market which failed to make goal.

Kickstarter is a very powerful thing for people like us. We were able to start with $100 and a crappy PC - and now we earn enough for one of us to give up the day job - and we'll likely grow until both of us are working it full-time.

So it's worthy of trying hard to keep it alive. It creates jobs and gets innovative products to market without the need to deal with bankers and all the horror that goes with that. It allows customers and product designers to work together. When it works, everybody wins.

But it's clear that these million dollar failures (with accusations of fraud, etc) have to stop - because they make the news and kill the entire beautiful concept of crowd-funding.

My feeling is that backers should avoid pushing too far above the "project goal" for a persons' first project. If they ask for $15,000...maybe let it ride to $25,000 - but then pledge no more. But on a second or subsequent project, when the business has succeeded at what they proposed - more or less within the estimated time - then let them earn a fortune the second time around.

Meeting goal SHOULD be enough to get a new business started...and after pushing through that first production run, we all learn a LOT. On the second time out, we know the ropes - and can be trusted with more money.

IMHO, Kickstarter should create a two-tier system - in tier #1, projects have to justify every penny they'll spend in mind-numbing detail - and they should be limited by KS themselves to 200% of that goal or $50,000 - whichever is greater.

When a project owner has successfully delivered on a tier #1 project, they should be released from probation and allowed to grow their business with either a new project - or a re-run of the previous one, but without the $$$ caps. Backers of the tier #1 project should be encouraged to leave feedback on the subsequent project without having to pledge against it.

I'd also prohibit "backer-only" updates...they allow bad projects to hide terrible news from the outside world - and muzzle their backers from commenting adversely.

    -- Steve

Comment Can't they just write their own encryption? (Score 1) 275

Seems to me that no amount of legislation about encryption, or shutting down or wire-tapping in-game chat on consoles or anything of that nature is going to help. It really doesn't take much tech savvy to write your own point-to-point or client/server communications system that can be encrypted out the wazoo and passed through any number of security-through-obscurity layers. Making the easy ways to do it illegal simply forces the bad guys into 'doing it properly' and then you'll still be unable to track or capturee it.

Comment Re:The Scrum Master is a big con (Score 3, Interesting) 371

In my last job, scrum-master was a task that was rotated through the team. Each sprint, a different team member takes on the responsibility. This gave everyone a better insight on what the job entails. After doing that for six months, it became clear who the right people were for the job - and it rotated around maybe three or four members of the team rather than all of us. New team members usually got handed the job for one sprint after they'd been with us for a couple of sprints.

Paying someone to be scrum-master is only worth-while when that person masters multiple scrums - and goes to scrum-of-scrums...and so forth. For most small teams, you don' t need that as a full-time role.

As for the scrum master "barking orders"...whoever thought that was what you do didn't read the scrum guide! The scrum master is a clerk - a book-keeper - and a keeper-of-rules - a servant of the team - not some kind of manager. If you give the scrum-master managerial power over the team - then you're not doing scrum anymore.

If you don't do scrum by-the-book, don't complain when it doesn't work. You're perfectly entitled to modify the system - but be aware that when you do so, you're not "doing scrum" anymore - you're doing some kind of pseudo-scrum - and when your pseudo-scrum breaks down like this, you have only yourselves to blame.

Comment Re:In my office... (Score 1) 371

Scrum will neither fix nor cause the problems of an aging, poorly-maintained, ill-documented code base. It makes no statements about what you do when you're handed something like that. Only you (and your budgets) can decide whether to wipe it out and start again, or have a program of continuous cleanup, or decide to patch problems as they arrive and build onion-like layers of code to hide the inner ikkiness. But, once you've consciously chosen a path, scrum can help you predict and measure progress - whether that be a list of bug-fix stories that grows as fast as you can fix them - or a jumbo story that contains a list of stories describing how you're going to fix it.

It's just like anything else in software - automating a mess just leaves you with a mess - do not blame the automation for that.

Comment Re:When done properly it is fantastic (Score 4, Informative) 371

I'm still a fan of scrum. I love that it gives the engineer the final word on schedule. No more "You have three weeks to do X." it's "How long will it take?"...and the truly awesome part is that it gives lazy team members no place to hide - and gives the team the incentive to meet the deadlines they imposed upon themselves - or have a damned good reason why they didn't.

I agree - in the last couple of jobs I've had that did scrum well - it really helped. I think it can be adapted to fit individual team's needs - but the huge mistake most people make is to start off by adapting it. My advice - jump in with both feet, use the standard scrum methodology - and after you've been doing it for several sprints, decide where you want to dial it back, amp it up or modify as needed. For example, in my previous job, planning poker worked really well - it was a way for the team to look at stories and say "I think you've missed a shortcut that would save you some time"....or...."I think you're missing a potential problem *here*.". But in my current job, the team is full of specialists in different fields - and that cross-pollination doesn't happen - so planning poker just doesn't work.

The point here is - try the whole thing - THEN customize as needed.

Comment Re: Austin? (Score 1) 464

Exactly. The trick to loving Austin is to live out in the burbs. Outside of downtown on the nicer side of Manor, I have a really beautiful 3500 sq.ft 4 bedroom 3.5 bathroom house with a nice yard, a workshop and a double garage with a mortgage payment that's significantly less than the $1800 that AC is paying in rent. I commute down 290, then 183 into the heart of tech jobs in NORTH Austin/Cedar Park (Research Boulevard area) - and by avoiding hwy 35, commuting mostly east/west and paying ~$5/day in tolls - I can usually get there in under 15 minutes. Since I started living in North Austin/RoundRock/Pflugerville/CedarPark/Leander, I've never been short of satisfying, well-paying tech work and I've never needed to either live or work downtown.

When I lived in an apartment about 18 months ago, I was on "Tech Ridge" just to the East of hwy 35 - and $900 got me a 2 bed/2 bath apartment with a garage and plenty of other parking at no extra cost...their prices may have risen a little over the past year or two - but I know they aren't over $1100 because there is a lot of apartment inventory out there with more sprouting up every day.

If you are totally car-averse, find someplace out in Leander near the MetroRail line - take your bike on the train - and you'll be just fine.

Downtown is a place to visit - not a place to live, and ideally, not a place to work either. Let the tourists enjoy that bit.

Comment Re:Austin is different (Score 1) 464

House prices *IN* Austin are pretty bad - but most of the Tech firms are north of downtown Austin - and an easy 20 minute commute (DO NOT TAKE Hwy 35!!) will get you out into gorgeous countryside with a decent 4 bedroom house in a nice neighborhood coming out at $300k, and a really stunning 4000 sq.ft palace with to-die-for views for $500k. Median 3 bed houses are around $240 outside of Austin itself. Apartment rentals are generally in the sub-$1000/mo range. There are a ton of jobs here for techies - and we have pretty decent restaurants, music, parks, museums, etc. No city or state income tax is nice - property taxes are higher than some places as a result - but it's not going to be horrendous. But if you insist on living downtown...the sky is the limit on house prices and rent.

As for Texas politics: When the NPR comedy/news show "Wait-wait...don't tell me" came here, they described Austin as "Texas Adjacent" - and that's a good description. We're the capital of Texas - and about the least Texan place in the state. As a tech-geek living out of downtown, it's rare to meet an actual Texan here.

Austin has an increasingly good environmental record - with initiatives to rent Smart cars downtown, EV rebates, we have a policy to have carbon-free electricity by 2030...we were at 23% renewable power (wind) last year and we're on-track to meet that target with the addition of biomass and solar plants.

I guess our biggest problem is traffic (did I mention the "DON'T TAKE 35" thing?) and to get around quickly means taking tollways, so get a toll-tag. I probably spend $100/mo on tolls. :-(

Weather consists of four seasons: Summer - crazy hot, stay near Freon at all times! Spring/Fall - nice weather, rain comes in brief horrendous downpours, the rest of the time it's really nice. Winter - totally random weather, hot/gorgeous/cold every day is crazily different...most places get snow roughl once a year, it hangs around long enough for the obligatory one snowball fight/one snow-angel/one snowman with the kids, one snow-day off school/work - and all of the snow melts by lunchtime. Tornadoes, floods and wildfires add excitement - but the probability of getting affected by one in any way is very, very close to zero.

Comment Estimation and Slide Rules (Score 1) 220

The thing about a slide rule is that it can tell you what the mantissa of the result is - but not the exponent. You have to figure that out yourself. Is 3x3 = 0.9, 9, 90 or 900? The slide rule doesn't really tell you that - so you're forced to do an estimate of the result in order to get a fast answer. This process of estimating was a useful double-check on the sanity of the result that is not present with things like calculators. So while the precision of a sliderule couldn't come close to a calculator, the discipline of using one did reduce the error rate for gross errors.

When I got my first calculator, I gleefully ditched my slide rule - but I did come to mourn it's passing. Of course you *can* use the same estimation techniques to use as a backup check on a calculator too - but because you don't absolutely need to - you don't.

Comment Re:What an incredibly stupid idea... (Score 1) 77

It doesn't have to be stupid.

If the car negotiates with the emitters on the roadway via some carefully encrypted radio gizmo, then the road can turn the charging field on and off (and track the vehicle) as needed. The cost for this service can be deducted from your credit card in just the way that toll roads currently manage that.

If you think of this like a tollway charge, it makes more sense. Companies are prepared to undertake the huge capital cost of building tollways in return for a continual income stream from drivers over decades...maybe they'll want to do the same for these kinds of recharging stations...and the likely companies to do this will be the ones who sell electric vehicles.

Efficiencies come from being able to make EV's with MUCH smaller batteries - which makes them cheaper, safer, lighter and better for the environment (batteries have ikky heavy metals and such)...and because it opens up the use of electric power to people who need to make longer journeys - which would hasten the uptake rate for EV's. Instead of needing 200 to 300 miles of range, you only need enough to haul the car to the next charger. This improvement can only happen gradually - because initially you'll still need to cover 100 mile stretches between suitably equipped roads - but eventually, we'll see a big win here.

There is obviously an infrastructure cost's hard to tell how big that would be because it all depends on how many of these things you need to embed in a mile of roadway in order to transfer enough power to drive a mile at whatever speeds...and it's too early to know how hard that is.

    -- Steve

Comment Neat thing about tether cables... (Score 1) 196

The neat thing about trailing a long tether is that it keeps the airship at a constant height above ground...if it were to drift higher, it would lift more tether off the ground, which would make it heavier - and thus descent. If it drifts lower, more tether rests on the ground, which lightens the airship and allow it to go up again. Net result is an elegant feedback control system that keeps the airship at constant height.

365 Days of drinking Lo-Cal beer. = 1 Lite-year