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Comment Economic incentives and existential threats (Score 1) 328

And you also can't make a credible business or scientific case for government to finance manned space travel to the Moon or Mars at this point.

Sure I can. It's actually pretty easy to make that argument. But it probably won't happen until one of two things occurs - either there has to be an economic incentive or an existential threat. That's part of what NdGT talks about. We went to the moon to beat the Russians during the Cold War - an existential threat. Once that threat was confirmed to not be an issue anymore we stopped going to the Moon and haven't been back since. We hadn't figured out a way to profit from going there yet and so the government funding went elsewhere. If it looks like China is going to the Moon I guarantee you that the US will find the money to do it too - just in case...

We do need research and exploration, but that can be done most efficiently using robot probes.

Some exploration can be done efficiently with probes. Some cannot be done at all with probes. There are a wide variety of topics for which exploratory probes are quite useless, not the least of which is studying human physiology and life support away from Earth. There is plenty of benefit in probes but the notion that nothing will be gained by sending people is absurd and short sighted. That's like thinking that we can explore the ocean using nothing but satellites and ROVs. They're useful tools but they aren't a replacement for going yourself.

Comment Who will pay for the exploration? (Score 1) 328

All you have to do is tell someone that there's money to be made in space.

That's great but until you do some exploring there isn't a single company in the world that is going to go there to find out. First you have to explore to get enough information to find out IF there is money to be made in space and if so, where it can be made. Private companies aren't going to do that bit on the frontier. They cannot except on comparatively small scales. Governments pretty much have to be the ones to do the initial exploration so the risks and rewards can be determined.

Comment Private companies don't do exploration of frontier (Score 1, Informative) 328

During the age of Columbus, any schmuck with a ship could go out exploring.

Not the big voyages. Those required the resources and backing of governments. A large sailing vessel in those days was equivalent to a SpaceX rocket rocket today. Hugely expensive and state of the art technology. Columbus could only do his voyage because he was backed by the crown. It wasn't until centuries later that "any schmuck with a ship" could set sail for wherever. People didn't sail across the Atlantic until a government backed expedition (Columbus) proved that there was something out there worth going to see.

Private companies getting in the game are just a necessary natural evolution of the technology.

Private companies are NOT the ones doing the exploration. They are building the equipment used by those doing the exploration. SpaceX is building rockets not much different from those used 40 years ago. They aren't building a moon base or any of the equipment needed to go to Mars. They are building what amounts to the Model T of chemical rockets to get the cost down. NASA is the one sending probes to Pluto. NASA is the one doing experiments on the space station. Private companies only get involved when there is something they can see a way to profit from. It's a good thing but pure exploration of the frontier is simply something they cannot do because the risk/reward ratio is off the charts bad.

Comment His basic thesis is probably correct (Score 5, Informative) 328

I've listened to NdGT talk about this topic a fair bit and I agree with his basic thesis that private companies will not lead the way to Mars or even the Moon. You simply cannot make a credible business case for a private company to do it. I'm an engineer but I'm also a certified accountant. I've pitched investors on projects and the problem is largely an economic one. Paraphrasing his arguments the risks are large and substantially unquantifiable, the ROI is unknown and will take many years if not decades and the amount of money required for large exploration projects is huge. The only institution which is in a position to spend large amounts of money on something with big risks, huge costs and completely uncertain payoffs are governments. Once some of the risks have been quantified and enough information becomes available to make a reasonable guess at an ROI and time frame for the investment, THEN private enterprise can jump in.

We largely admire companies like SpaceX but SpaceX isn't doing anything wildly outside what NASA has already done. They're not sending probes to Mars, they are just improving the economics and a bit of the technology for chemical rockets - a technology we've had for 60+ years. People talk about mining asteroids but no private body is funding the exploration to go find them much less developing the technology to actually do something economically useful. The cost is too big, the returns too uncertain and the risks are still largely unknown. It's why we still need NASA out there on the frontier. Leave the launches to SpaceX and others and get NASA out into the solar system doing the cutting edge research and exploration we so desperately need. We don't need NASA building rockets, we need them figuring out how to get us permanently more than 200 miles from the surface of the Earth.

Comment Tribalism (Score 1) 488

The invisible friends part of religion is only a small portion.

I disagree that it is a small thing but I agree that it isn't the only thing.

Religion doesn't bring tribalism, it's just one of the many uniforms that tribalism wears. Without religion people would, and do, find other ways to draw lines between groups of people.

Let me put it this way. Religion makes tribalism really, really easy AND it makes it difficult to reconcile because it isn't based on anything rational. You are quite right that tribalism comes in many forms but you cannot argue that religious based tribalism is particularly pervasive. And to my mind it is particularly odious as well.

Comment The appeal of religion (Score 1) 488

Except that religion tends to make no goddamn sense to a rational mind and gets rejected on sheer logical grounds.

There are plenty of high quality engineers and scientists who are not particularly rational and a fair number are deeply religious. There are members of the National Academy of Science who are devout. Some of our most famous scientists such as Newton were very religious. While religion is largely irrational, obviously there is something about it that some otherwise rational and intelligent humans find irresistible. Some people have a hard time with saying "I don't know". Some people are insecure and scared and need an invisible friend to help them get through the day. Some people find comfort in someone else telling them what to do and how to think even when what they are being told makes no objective sense. Some people value the sense of community found in religious groups - tribalism is a big thing with humans. I don't think there is a single answer but clearly some find it appealing.

Personally I'm baffled by the appeal of religions. I gave up having invisible friends when I was a child and I really don't like people telling me I'm a bad person for not believing in ludicrous fairy tales. I find the tribalism and fighting that religion brings to be deeply troubling. I find proselytizing and brainwashing that religions engage in to be tantamount to rape, especially when aimed at children. I don't really care if someone wants to believe in something loony but I have a big problem when they think they need to infect others with their crazy.

Comment Hypocrisy (Score 1) 488

Oh good. Just what the world needs. More engineer bashing.

Speaking as an engineer myself why should our field be above a good bashing when others aren't? We're not special. Folks here like to bash bankers, managers, marketing and other fields but can't imagine that engineers are anything other than wise saints who never do anything wrong or harmful. It's not true of course - engineers have the same human failures as anyone else.

So I'm thinking the authors of this book... aren't engineers. Always easier to bash the other guy than look inward, innit?

Given how much the engineers here bash other fields we certainly have a lot of engineers who can dish it out but cannot take it.

Comment Training versus recruiting (Score 1) 488

It is likely many promising young jihadists are schooled to suit the perceived needs of the movement.

So you think that they have a (figurative) farm system whereby they are training engineers years in advance of when they will need them? That argument fails Occam's Razor. A much simpler explanation is that individuals with technical skills are targeted for those skills.

The claims in this summary reek of arriving at an opinion, and then fitting in the evidence as it suits your case.

Sounds like you are trying to do the same.

Comment Opportunities are not equal for everyone (Score 2, Insightful) 174

Everyone has the same opportunity.

No they do not. You have to be phenomenally clueless or bigoted to think otherwise. The same opportunities are NOT available to everyone. That was the entire point of the civil rights movement and the suffrage movement. Just because you have some choices doesn't mean everyone else does. Opportunity can be taken away very easily by institutions (government and private) if we allow it to occur. Opportunity is a fragile thing and not everyone gets equal opportunity under the law or in society. Bigotry, racism, and sexism and discrimination are real things with real consequences. Those who have to actually face them by definition do not have equal opportunity. The fact that some people manage to break through does not mean that the gap in opportunity is not real for many many people.

For example, I become a developer; not a cake baker. That doesn't mean I didn't have equal opportunity to become a cake baker. It means that I fucking chose to be something else.

Wow do you not get it. If everything is so equal as you claim then why do we see non-white people incarcerated at disproportionate rates? Why do we see older people having trouble getting tech jobs even when they are well qualified for them? Why do we see a congress that doesn't even begin to resemble the demographics of the country? You think because you chose one job over another that there is no inequality in the real world? That's just ignorant as hell.

Comment Equality of opportunity matters (Score 3, Insightful) 174

Excuse me, but what I expect from corporations (where I am not myself a shareholder) is quality products. I don't give a damn, who they hire and why — as long as they don't enslave workers — and neither should anybody else. Mind your own business, people.

Maybe you don't give a damn about your fellow human beings but those of us who aren't sociopaths do. I want to see people get good opportunities and not be held down because they happened to be born with a different set of genitals or a different skin color. Glass ceilings are a real thing. Clearly you've never seen anyone bump into one but I have. These are real issues that affect real people and in a civilized society we care about what happens to them. People don't have to be enslaved for a workplace to be a very bad place.

We have certain protected classes of people (gender, race, age, etc) precisely because there is clear and unambiguous evidence that if we allow discrimination based on those criteria that the results are bad both for society and for the individuals. The market demonstrably cannot fairly deal with this problem.

Comment What you buy is a choice (Score 1) 260

Not all shares are voting shares. What you suggest just isn't realistic for shares owned through mutual funds and the like.

Holding shares in a mutual fund is a choice. Holding voting versus non voting shares is a choice. Nobody forced you to buy those shares. If you are fine with holding non-voting shares and letting someone else speak for you then that is fine but understand and own your actions.

Comment Go where we can to learn first (Score 1) 173

By that logic it would have made more sense to try to get supersonic flight working before lighter-than air craft.

Nice reductio ad absurdem. Seriously, analogies like this almost never are relevant. And this is slashdot so please use a car analogy if you must. :-) Anyway some things about a Moon base will be harder but others will be easier, not the least of which are the logistics involved.

Much more extreme temperature swings

Which if you can handle those, the ones on Mars should be a piece of cake. Don't forget about the effects of the moon passing through the Earth's magneto-tail either. Huge charge buildups will be challenging to say the least.

- Razor-sharp abrasive dust that will quickly destroy seals, gaskets, and other soft materials (no weather to wear it smooth like on Earth and Mars)

Last I checked there is an awful lot of abrasive dust on Mars too AND the dust on Mars has an atmosphere to blow it into all kinds of inconvenient places whereas the Moon does not. Is it the same? Of course not. The moon dust has different properties. But there will likely be overlap in lessons learned.

2-week nights that make solar power nonviable without massive battery banks

Versus the occasional planet wide dust storm. If we're going to Mars with people we're probably going to have some form of nuclear power along for the ride. Solar will be important but we'll need to learn to work around the occasional bit of darkness on Mars or the Moon

much lower gravity, making adapting Earth-based nuclear reactor designs more challenging

Since we're not going to be on Earth why would we use a reactor designed for operation on Earth? We actually understand the physics of this problem rather well.

very few resources relevant to sustaining life (contrast to plenty of water and CO2 on Mars)

There is apparently water on the Moon. Furthermore it's close enough that we can deliver supplies to the moon while we figure out what works and what doesn't. With a Mars mission you pretty much have zero margin for error thanks to the distance. We already have the technology to get to and from the Moon (comparatively) safely. The same cannot be said for Mars and no matter what Elon Musk claims we're not going to go there for some time yet. Why not go where we can and learn what there is to learn?

Furthermore you are forgetting about many of the advantages of a lunar base:
1) Smaller gravity well than Earth so it can act as a forward base of operations. Comparatively cheap to get to.
2) Excellent location for astronomy given the lack of atmosphere
3) Effects of lower gravity (versus micro-gravity) on human physiology can be studied.
4) Evacuation is actually possible should the need arise.
5) Round trip communication delay is ~3 seconds versus 8-30 minutes for Mars.

Comment What are you doing about the abuse? (Score 1) 260

By the way, I own stock, but it doesn't mean I am for every type of corporate abuse that makes the company a few extra bucks.

So as a shareholder what are you doing about it? Are you attending shareholder meetings? Are you putting forth proposals? Are you voting on the board of directors? Are you doing these things even if they are unlikely to make much difference?

Just so we're clear I agree with you, but if you are a shareholder and you say nothing then the blood is on your hands too. If you own stock then you are an owner of the company and you are tacitly condoning any actions you don't speak out against.

Comment Probes can't teach you about us (Score 3) 173

Except going to Mars is propaganda and not science. No scientific value in sending man to Mars.

That's not true at all. We would learn a tremendous amount from sending a man to Mars. There would have to be great advances in medicine, agriculture, life support, power, shielding, and much more. Much of it would be technology we are unlikely to develop any other way. We would learn a tremendous amount by sending a man to Mars or even to the Moon.

Lots of scientific value sending probes and what not to explore the galaxy. Cheaper too.

Of course there is value in probes. But there are things you cannot learn by sending probes. That's like saying you can learn everything about Earth by using satellites and ROVs. It simply isn't true. You cannot learn anything about human physiology for one. You learn nothing about life (ours or alien) in these remote places. Probes have their value but the idea that they can completely replace sending people is absurd.

"Survey says..." -- Richard Dawson, weenie, on "Family Feud"