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Comment: Re:Banksters (Score 1) 415

by swillden (#49768003) Attached to: Greece Is Running Out of Money, Cannot Make June IMF Repayment

Remember, it's the shareholders that pay these fines. And no one in the bank corporation is held accountable.

What an odd thing to say. Of course the owners of the bank take the hit when fines are levied. Who else would? And it's up to the owners of the bank to decide how to hold their employees accountable.

Comment: Re:Missing the key point (Score 1) 313

by swillden (#49767895) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI

Very well put. I came here to make this post, but now I don't have to.

One quibble, though:

nobody has any hardware that there is any reason to believe is within several orders of magnitude of being able to run one, etc.

We also have no reason to believe that we don't have hardware completely capable of running one, and haven't for quite some time. Until we have some idea how intelligence works and how to construct an AI, we really can't have any idea whether or not our hardware is sufficient.

Comment: Re:To be more precise, Amazon will collect on taxe (Score 4, Insightful) 231

by swillden (#49762097) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

That assumes that the business can raise prices without consequence, which is an invalid assumption.

Only if the competition can avoid the taxes. If all of the players in the market get hit with the same taxes, then all of them absolutely can and will raise prices, and there will be no consequences.

Taxes are a percentage of profits, and are not deductible from revenue when calculating profits. So if Amazon raises their prices (and, assuming no change in consumer behavior, their revenue) by 10%, they also increase the amount of taxes they owe by 10%. So now they have to raise their prices again to cover the additional tax, lather rinse repeat.

This is a standard financial calculation, and a trivial one. The tax is 10%, so the increase is 10%, but there's 10% tax on that, so 1%, meaning the increase needs to be 11%, continue ad infinitum (literally). In other words, the new price needs to be 11.1111...% higher than the old one to keep profit margins unchanged. More generally, the increase needs to be the sum of the infinite series with terms r^n. This series is convergent if r < 1, and converges to 1/(1-r). So for a 25% tax, the company needs to increase prices by 1-1/(1-.25) = 33.333...% to keep profit margins unchanged after accounting for the new tax.

Of course, it doesn't quite happen like that. In practice, companies don't instantly raise prices. They do take the hit for a while, where it gets absorbed by the investors, not the customers. Then they allocate a portion of the losses to employees, in the form of reduced raises, or benefits. Then they raise prices. But eventually they get back to a steady state of roughly the same return on assets that they had before the tax hike.

Comment: Re:To be more precise, Amazon will collect on taxe (Score 5, Insightful) 231

by swillden (#49762053) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

Specifically, all corporate taxes paid come from three categories of individuals: consumers, who pay higher prices for items to cover the taxes; employees, who make lower wages to cover the taxes; and shareholders, who earn lower returns (and note that the two former categories are often also shareholders, via their pension plans). Suppliers can also lose, but they're generally corporations as well, with their own employees and investors who actually eat the loss. In the long run, though, the investors don't lose because capital flows away from lower returns and towards higher ones. So companies must find ways to keep their returns up to somewhere near the mean rate of return.

Once you understand that no taxes are paid by corporations, ever, then you should also recognize that corporate taxes are not only ultimately paid by individuals, but the individuals almost never realize they're paying it. How many people know their prices would be lower, wages higher, or pension more secure, if it weren't for corporate taxes? And, therefore, how many voters have any interest in opposing corporate taxation? To politicians and voters, corporate taxes look almost like free money. Ratchet up the corporate taxes and no people get hurt, just those nasty corporations. (Actually, politicians sometimes get even more value out of threatening corporate taxes than enacting them, since it tends to encourage said corporations to buy off, er, donate to their re-election funds.)

I assert that while taxes are necessary, the electorate should see and understand exactly what they're paying, so they can evaluate the value they're receiving for the money they're paying. Hidden taxes are evil, and therefore corporate taxes are evil, and should be abolished, not raised.

Comment: Re:Pot, meet kettle (Score 1) 228

by swillden (#49756299) Attached to: Asteroid Risk Greatly Overestimated By Almost Everyone

Global warming is a sloooooooooooooooooow process

Not necessarily. Greenland ice core records show that in the past the planet has seen temperature shifts of up to 7 C in as little as 30 years. 7 C is huge. It's like transporting Moscow to Rome. Of course, we have no idea what caused such rapid changes in the past. It wasn't CO2 levels, or particulates.

Comment: Re:Math (Score 1) 228

by swillden (#49756245) Attached to: Asteroid Risk Greatly Overestimated By Almost Everyone

i would not be surprised if humans died off within a couple centuries after that.

I would. If one or more isolated populations managed to survive more than a couple of generations after the event, I think it's highly likely that they'd continue to survive indefinitely. The worst of the changes would be past, and they'd clearly have learned how to survive in the new environment, else they'd have died sooner.

Human intelligence makes us highly adaptable, as evidenced by the extraordinary diversity of environments in which we live, and lived even before the advent of modern technology. Humans who lack the necessary knowledge of how to survive in a particular environment are at severe risk of death any place on the planet, but if they manage to survive for even a year or two, odds are that they'll have learned enough to be able to extend that time almost indefinitely.

Comment: Re:Arbitrary appendages? (Score 2) 50

Well that was my point about having very plastic brains. I'm not a neuroscientist, and I don't know how much details like (I have specifically four major appendages to control; two arms, two legs) are baked into the brain from day 0, vs. being just one of the configurations to which a very young brain can adapt.

You missed the point, I think.

The bionic foot in the article doesn't receive signals directly from the brain. It receives signals as they arrive at existing muscles. So we're talking about a brain that has already been wired naturally to control normally-grown muscles, and hijacking that message to also actuate motors. To use this process for additional limbs, you'd have to have a person who had grown those limbs to begin with.

Comment: Re:Let me tell you about mine. (Score 1) 164

by swillden (#49723379) Attached to: I spent Mother's Day this year ...

I wish you all the best, and hope your mom really does figure out that if you're the most important thing in her life, she's really doing it wrong.

I do have sympathy for her; I'm sure that like my daughter her choices aren't wholly under her own control, and that as hellish as it is to live with her, it's got to be a thousand times worse to be her. But that doesn't change the fact that close contact with someone like that wears on you in ways that you don't even realize until they're gone. My family is still recovering from the unbelievable tension and stress she put on all of us until she moved out. I didn't even realize until she was gone how irrationally snappish and defensive her brothers had gotten, but now I see it because they're finally unclenching their jaws. Me, too.

Your mother is mentally ill, and she needs help. But until she decides that, and decides that she needs to get help to change, or until she bottoms out in some way that legally removes all choice from her, it won't happen. Having compassion for her suffering is good... as long as you don't get sucked in, and that's really hard. I don't think I could bring myself to cut ties, but maybe it would be best. Nobody can tell you what's right, and odds are that whatever you do will bring some misery. It's balancing on razors and job #1 is not getting cut any more than you can avoid :-/

Comment: Re:Let me tell you about mine. (Score 1) 164

by swillden (#49715509) Attached to: I spent Mother's Day this year ...

Beauty school? I think you're on the wrong site fella.

Why? It's a reasonable living.

In one way it's sad, because she's a very intelligent young woman. Easily capable -- intellectually -- of any university curriculum she wants to pursue. But her mental illness and concomitant emotional instability make it difficult for her to handle that sort of challenge. More to the point, she is convinced that she will fail in a university setting, which guarantees that she will. We can't convince her otherwise. She believes she can do beauty school, and she enjoys that sort of thing. So, fingers crossed that she succeeds.

Comment: A large load of sheets from BB&B (Score 1) 149

by sphealey (#49707975) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Best Payloads For Asteroid Diverter/Killer Mission?

NASA's current plan it to cover a sufficient amount of the object with a different colored cloth (white or black as the case may be) and let the solar sail effect do the work. So a 30% off coupon to Bed Bath & Beyond would do the trick; even with the discount the manager and staff should get a nice bonus for selling 250,000 white sheets in one day.


Comment: Re:Let me tell you about mine. (Score 3, Interesting) 164

by swillden (#49698449) Attached to: I spent Mother's Day this year ...

I feel you, man.

My mom is great, mind you. My challenge is my adult daughter. I do have the (very large!) advantage over you of already being established. Well enough that from an actual financial perspective I can probably weather just about anything she can do. But the emotional situation is similar, with the twist that as her father I feel like I actually AM responsible.

I'm in the process of preparing to screw myself to help her go to beauty school, so that she hopefully ends up with some way to support herself. I just paid off $3K of debt that collectors were hounding her for, so that she can get a student loan for another $12K -- which I'm co-signing. Without that debt paid off the bank wouldn't lend her money even with a solid co-signer. With it paid off, they'll lend to her but only if I'm on the hook. To sort of put her on the hook for the $3K she owes me, I took out a signature loan with her as co-signer. The understanding is that I'll make the payments on both loans until she graduates and starts earning an income, then she'll pick them up.

Yeah, right.

Here's what's really going to happen: She'll go to school for a while and then get in a fight with one of her classmates or instructors and announce that everyone there hates her and that she can't do it any more and refuses to go. Of course, the school insists on getting paid up front. There is a refund schedule if you don't finish, on a sliding scale depending on how far you got before you quit, but the schedule starts with them keeping 50% of the $10K tuition and all of the $2K materials costs, that's if you quit the first day. It rapidly gets worse after that. I don't blame the school; I'm sure they need to protect themselves.

So, then, she'll have $15K of loans which my name is on, and be unable to pay them. So either I'll make the payments or my credit rating will go down the toilet. Which means I'll make the payments. But even though that's how I expect it to go down, I'm going to do it anyway, because there is a chance that she may actually be able to do this and I really want to help her get herself established. She does really like doing hair, nails and makeup, so maybe.

Anyway, I'm posting this mostly as an exercise in mutual self-pity and to reassure you that you're not alone (as if you didn't know that), but I also have some concrete suggestions for you.

First, I think you should decide which is more important to you, the $2K your mom owes you, or the relationship you have with her. I'm not implying that you should decide one way or the other, mind you, that's totally on you, and deciding against the relationship wouldn't be unreasonable. But if you decide that the relationship is more important, you should let the money go. It's poisoning the relationship, and it'll get worse.

Second, in the future if she needs money, and you want to give it to her, make it a gift. If you can't do that, you might consider the bank loan idea, as I'm doing with my daughter. It doesn't change the fact that you may end up eating the loss, but it changes the relationship. Rather than you demanding that she give you money, the bank is demanding that both of you give them money, and both of you know it's really her responsibility and that by making her payment you're bailing her out. Each payment you make is a gift to her... but at least they're smaller, more manageable gifts.

I'm setting up automatic payments with my bank's bill pay feature, and using their "confirmation" feature to send my daughter both an e-mail and a text about each and every payment I make for her, ostensibly to keep her in the loop because it's her debt, but really to remind her of each gift.

Third, you may consider using the phone as leverage. It's yours, and you're allowing her to use it. When you've had it and just can't take any more of some particular thing, tell her that if she doesn't cut it out, you'll turn the phone off. This is a fairly effective tool with my daughter, but your mom may be less dependent on the phone. At least with my service provider (Verizon) I can easily suspend and resume service on any line on my account.

Fourth, and most important, I'll tell you what many of my daughter's therapists have told me: Take care of yourself first. They compare it to the airplane safety video, where you're told that if the oxygen masks drop you shut put your own on first, before trying to help anyone else, because if you don't take care of yourself first it's possible both you and the person you would have helped may die. The same principle applies... and beyond taking care of her, you owe yourself a decent life.

Take care, seriously.

Comment: Re:Luck plays a more important role than people kn (Score 5, Insightful) 126

by swillden (#49697833) Attached to: How SpaceX and the Quest For Mars Almost Sunk Tesla Motors

But that hard work they did doesn't mean their success did not depend on their luck as much as it did on their work.

There's a great little (light, easy-to-read) book "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" which explains this very well in the last chapter. The truth is that randomness plays a huge role in success and failure of all sorts of endeavors. BUT, as the book points out with extensive examples, that doesn't mean we're powerless and just have to accept whatever the random dice of fate serve up for us. We can work hard to weight the dice a little, but even more important, we control how many throws of the dice we get. Successful people are those who are smart, hard-working and persistent

Had SpaceX not gotten the NASA contract, Tesla would undoubtedly have suffered, and Musk would have been scrambling to save it. I'd give him good odds of succeeding, too, either with alternative financing, or by closing the doors and starting over, or... something. And maybe he wouldn't have managed it, but I guarantee he wouldn't just have given up and said "Well, bad luck, I'm out". Because people who would do that don't get to where Musk is, no matter how lucky they are.

The person who can smile when something goes wrong has thought of someone to blame it on.