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Comment: Re:Probably a bad idea, but... (Score 1) 188

by taiwanjohn (#47937557) Attached to: On Independence for Scotland:

many voting Yes today in Scotland are doing so with the understanding that they can still use the same currency

And with good reason... After all, it would take a while to come up with their own currency, so people would just continue using whatever they have. This vote is just a simple yes/no on independence; all those pesky details like currency and Trident submarines will have to be dealt with in the aftermath.

As for the currency, I think the real test will be the degree of "buy-in" among the Scots population. If a majority of Scots "invest" the majority of their savings in the new currency, it will succeed in the long run.

Comment: Re:Probably a bad idea, but... (Score 1) 188

by taiwanjohn (#47937189) Attached to: On Independence for Scotland:

Of course I've heard of it, but I thought it would be clear enough that I was talking about the British Pound (since the Scots Pund and the Irish Punt are no longer in use).

Anyway, it doesn't matter what name you call it, as long as the currency is controlled by Scotland, and not by some other entity.

Comment: Re:Does HFCS count? (Score 1) 282

by taiwanjohn (#47936789) Attached to: Study Finds Link Between Artificial Sweeteners and Glucose Intolerance

Sorry, no citations,

Dr. Robert Lustig has a pretty detailed discussion of the differences between glucose and fructose metabolism about halfway through this lecture. You've got the big picture about right. I would just add that fructose translates (via the liver) into VLDL cholesterol, which is a "prime suspect" in the increase in atherosclerosis.

Comment: Re:Oh Joy! (Score 1) 61

by taiwanjohn (#47325741) Attached to: Making an Autonomous Car On a Budget

Fully automated vehicles, that is.

I don't think "full auto" is required. This is more like Tesla's "autopilot" concept than Google's "driverless" car. This would get used most often on the interstate, not so much in cities, and it's a pretty good fit for that application. I can do some work (or take a nap) between cities and take the wheel a few minutes before the exit ramp. (Or I could program certain conditions such as weather or traffic to trigger an alarm.) But even this level of automation would dramatically reduce highway casualties.

What I'm curious about is how they sense certain road conditions, such as "black ice" that can fool even the most experienced human driver. OTOH, with a broad range of sensing like RADAR and echolocation, you could plow through pea-soup fog without much worry.

cabs are too expensive for everyday use

I'm lucky to live in a place (Taipei) where public transportation is cheap and ubiquitous. Even taxis are plentiful and cheap here. I don't even own a single motorized vehicle. Why bother, when I can get to anyplace I want with less than 20min walking and $2 in fees, and I can get home from anywhere in the city for less than $10, anytime, day or night?

This is where "full auto" is required: bringing this kind of convenience to the broad, "midwestern" spaces of America. When you can make the round-trip to/from your local watering hole for less than 15 bucks, why would anyone take the risk of driving drunk?

I think Google is smart to be investing so heavily in this tech, because once we pass that tipping point, this is going to be the biggest "killer app" of all time. And in the meantime, Tesla is also smart to be pursuing their autopilot tech, because it will be a huge selling point.

Comment: Re:And for those that weren't aware (Score 1) 164

by taiwanjohn (#47158419) Attached to: 'Godfather of Ecstasy,' Chemist Sasha Shulgin Dies Aged 88

I read somewhere, years ago, that Shulgin had an "informal understanding" with the authorities: he would keep his "recipes" obscure enough to prevent casual duplication by anyone without a PhD in organic chemistry, and in return "they" would leave him alone to do his work -- and they would also reap the benefits of his research via his copious and detailed lab notes and trip reports.

I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds nice.

In any case, well played, Sasha... RIP.

Comment: Re:180 satellites... (Score 1) 170

by taiwanjohn (#47149127) Attached to: Google To Spend $1 Billion On Fleet of Satellites

Based on past satellite ventures, costs could rise.

Based on recent developments, costs could plummet. IMHO, the only reason Google is even talking about this now is because SpaceX recently flew a (theoretically) reusable first stage. Of course, "practical" reusability is still in the works, but Musk is tight with the gurus of Google, and it doesn't cost them much in the short run to flog their "visionary" quest to bring broadband to the masses. And if Musk succeeds with reusability (which seems likely) they'll be able to deploy this constellation at a fraction of the currently advertised cost.

Sounds like a win-win for all concerned...

Comment: Re:Ad astra per aspera (Score 1) 95

by taiwanjohn (#47119487) Attached to: Robots Will Pave the Way To Mars

It'll be a while before we start towing asteroids into Earth orbit. Earth-Moon Lagrange points will be the first destinations, then after we get good at that we'll gradually allow more and bigger rocks closer to Earth.

As for kinetic bombardment from orbit, the energy budget is not promising for this scenario. The amount of reaction mass needed to de-orbit a large boulder is "non trivial" to say the least. I suppose you could build a rail-gun and shoot a small mass at high velocity in order nudge a bigger rock into decay, but unless you've got a really huge capacitor, you'll have a tough time "dropping" a rock from orbit that would do much more damage than a standard cruise missile.

It's trivial to track such changes in velocity. So if you can't "drop" your boulder directly on target without taking a couple of orbits to decay, then the weapon loses it's surprise/initiative. The target could simply nuke it in space before it has a chance to de-orbit.

Then you've got the problem of cross-range deflection. Unless you don't mind waiting a few hours (or days, or weeks) until your rock's orbit takes it right over your target, you're going to need some way to widen your zone. The rail-gun can do some of this work, but you're going to need an "aerodynamic" rock in order to hit a precision target.

I'm not saying this is impossible, I just don't think it's very likely, given how many other (much easier) ways we already have to do the same job.

Comment: Re:Bad move (Score 1) 280

Thanks again for "translating" the argument into language I can make sense of. IIRC, Lerner does acknowledge the engineering challenges in the "PCST" (nice acronym, btw). But if he can demonstrate the p-B reaction with his method (especially if he can do so for $200k), that could open a floodgate of interest and investment.

Doing that reliably on an over-unity energy budget would be a "BFD" (in the words of VP Biden), and it could dramatically alter the course of R&D. I'm just "spit-balling" here as a non-expert, but the PCST sounds a lot less challenging than the Tokamak.

Comment: Re:Bad move (Score 1) 280

That is interesting. Thanks for the link. I wish I had the expertise to follow the argument in detail, but I'll just have to take "their" word for it (on both sides) and wait and see how it all turns out.

That said, I confess that I hope Lerner can make his method work. From an engineering POV, it's an elegant solution to the problem of plasma instability... don't fight it, use it to your advantage. The history of science may be littered with "elegant" ideas that didn't pan out, but there are also quite a few examples of ideas that were initially scoffed at by the mainstream, and nowadays are mainstream.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.