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Comment: Re:Something wrong at the foundation - (Score 1) 450

by tragedy (#46820477) Attached to: Oklahoma Moves To Discourage Solar and Wind Power

There are differences, but the crucial similarity is that both involve vying for effectively finite resources. Labor, food, land, water, air, etc. are all tied together. There are limiting factors to growth. True, you can work around some limits with technological development, but technological development is not guaranteed. Eventually you run out of resources (more accurately you saturate their potential for usage, or, probably even more accurately, you super-saturate their potential for usage and that supersaturation catches up with you catastrophically).

Come to think of it, the difference between those situations is really that one can basically be a superset of the other. More humans born means more humans needing to buy IP addresses with the additional money being printed. The trouble is, the actual supply is fundamentally limited. Still, there is a critical difference. A new ip address paradigm can basically be waved into existence. The resources that limit overall growth are a lot harder to magically either make more of or make more available.

Comment: Re:Guard (Score 0) 330

by tragedy (#46803087) Attached to: Why Portland Should Have Kept Its Water, Urine and All

Whoops. I feel a bit foolish. I seem to have mixed up something. I looked at a bunch of poisons and I must have mixed up the numbers for cyanide (which comes out to about 15 tons) and Batrachotoxin. Not sure now which one was the 228 tons. In any case, batrachotoxin is still not very realistic. I brought it up because it was the deadliest poison by mass I could find. 15 tons was an absolutely ridiculous amount of the poison. 15 kilograms is still an unrealistic amount to obtain considering that you have to get it from wild-captured frogs in tiny amounts. Aside from that, I don't think it's actually water soluble, and I'm not sure whether it's as lethal taken orally. Then there's the fact that the vast majority of people don't drink a liter of water all at once. They take a sip and, if there's a potent, instantaneous poison, they notice it instantaneously. It's still a serious potential health issue, as you say, but far less than a lethal dose, at which point they call emergency services. After a few such calls, someone hopefully realizes what's going on and has the city water supply shut down and sends out a warning through every available emergency channel. That's a fatal flaw with many possible poisons.

Someone suggested Ricin in another post but, taken orally, that would require nearly ten tons in the water supply to be lethal. Overall, the poisoning plan seems to be less effective than getting a bunch of henchmen to just shoot up the town with conventional weapons.

Comment: Re:Guard (Score 5, Insightful) 330

by tragedy (#46801765) Attached to: Why Portland Should Have Kept Its Water, Urine and All

"Easily" poison 38 million gallons of water? See, this is exactly the same problem from the original article. A typical person drinks a lot less than 1 liter of water at a time, but we'll be generous to your poisoning idea and base our required dose of poison on 1 liter of water. Probably the most deadly known poison by unit mass is Batrachotoxin. In order to poison 38 million gallons of water so that every liter contains a fatal dose, you would need about 15 tons of it. 15 tons of poison produced by a particular species of frog, and then only when they eat a particular species of beetle, is pretty hard to come by. If you went with something more generally available, such as some form of cyanide, you'd need about 228 tons.

So, your plan to poison the water supply is dastardly, evil, possibly even insidious... but not remotely practical. Sure, you could do it, but the expense would be high and the effictiveness would be relatively low since the water can be shut off centrally. You'd have a lot more luck just getting your henchmen to go on a rampage through the main street with conventional weapons.

Comment: Re:Stop Now (Score 1) 174

by tragedy (#46793295) Attached to: Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

It started life as a status project.

I was unaware of that facility being a status project. It was built during the height of the Apollo program, which was, in some ways, a prestige project. Is that what you're thinking of?

It means that the sponsor isn't particularly concerned about cost which is a strong bias upward in cost estimates for such projects.

The point there though was that other types of projects can also have strong upward biases in cost. Large scale scientific experiments where exacting standards need to be met, for example.

Once again, I really do hope that the money will be put forward for alternative methods. This hatchet job of an article suggests that it's going to be really hard to get any sort of funding for any alternatives, however.

Comment: Re:Bad Summary (Score 1) 45

by tragedy (#46784219) Attached to: 5-Year Suspended Sentence For S. Africa's First Online Pirate

People have tried to get away with that sort of thing in "compression" algorithms before. For example, create a thousand 0 byte files and stuff all the data in the filenames and you can claim to have just achieved an infinite (or undefined) compression ratio. That sort of thing is rightly considered to be cheating when it comes to compression algorithms.

Comment: Re:perception (Score 1) 320

Charities are more direct and people know that it is being done because people actually care, not because their funds have been confiscated under threat of imprisonment.

The problem with relying on "more direct" charities is that far too many people fall through the cracks of a heterogenous crazy paving of such organizations. Conversely, it also tends to be easier for con-artists to prey on such scattered organizations.

Comment: Re:power cars? technically no (Score 2) 174

by tragedy (#46776765) Attached to: 'Thermoelectrics' Could One Day Power Cars

A detonation doesn't neccessarily release more power than a deflagration. That's apples to oranges. It's more a matter of intensity. For example, ANFO detonates, and has a specific energy of something like 3.7 MJ/kg whereas a gasoline/oxygen mixture in an engine typically deflagrates (although it can also detonate under the right conditions, which isn't good for the engine, as you point out) and has a specific energey of something like 9.7 MJ/kg (counting the gasoline plus the oxygen needed for combustion). Clearly averaged over time you can get more power out of an equivalent mass of gasoline/oxygen than from ANFO. Although, if you slice time thinly enough you can say that you get more instantaneous power out of the ANFO because you can get all of the power out of it faster than you can from deflagrating the gasoline/oxygen mixture.

Comment: Re:power cars? technically no (Score 1) 174

by tragedy (#46776675) Attached to: 'Thermoelectrics' Could One Day Power Cars

2. Supply isn't as big a problem as the incredible safety issues. I acknowledge in my post that the idea is totally insane, which is why I doubt that, even with a big improvement in efficiency, you'd probably never see RTGs used outside of military applications.

The safety issues aren't really that bad. You could put 60 kilos inside a casing that would easily block the radiation down to negligible levels and would be effectively indestructable in the worst conceivable accident. Worries about "dirty bombs" are ridiculous considering the large array of easily available substances that would be much more dangerous (not very) in such a bomb. As for a nuclear weapon, I'm not exactly sure how fissionable it is, but I do know that you would need a massively powerful nuclear weapon in the first place in order to actually induce fission in it, so it's not dangerous in that respect either.

So, right now, the supply probably is the biggest problem. At the rate the US is currently producing it, it would take 40 years to get enough for one car. Not that the rate of production couldn't be ramped up considerably, but it would still be so expensive it would only be useful for powering things in space or at the bottom of the ocean, or deep under the earth, etc. Places where power is otherwise impossible or incredibly expensive to obtain.

Comment: Re:power cars? technically no (Score 2) 174

by tragedy (#46776637) Attached to: 'Thermoelectrics' Could One Day Power Cars

1. Current TEs are no where close to 50% efficient. More like about 5%.

The article was about new, higher-efficiency materials. Still not high enough, and not near 50% efficiency, but certainly getting up there. Good enough so that, if you could get hold of the material, you could at least use it to charge your electric cars batteries currently, even if you couldn't power the car directly. Of course, at present, you'd be better off with a Stirling engine.

3. You can't "turn-off" an RTG. They have to run continuously.

Presumably, you could plug them into the power grid in most places you park them

Comment: Re:Stop Now (Score 1) 174

by tragedy (#46762573) Attached to: Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

And my point is that these are essentially status projects. Well, the NASA one is a reused status project. Spending a lot more money than you have to is part of the project.

Which NASA project? Are you talking about the Space Power Facility? That's not a prestige project, that's a giant bell jar with really good vacuum pumps. Even though it looks cool enough to be used as a movie prop/set, it's very utilitarian. As for those giant tents, they may be prestige projects, but that doesn't really mean anything. Large utilitarian projects intended as nuclear experiment stations also are built at a premium because they're meant to be built to very high standards.

For example, I believe an inflatable structure of the appropriate scale with a medium vacuum in the center and properly anchored to the ground (or perhaps rather the inside of an abandoned open copper mine) could be had for low tens of millions of dollars (the inflatable components of the outer shell would be moderately over-pressurized cone-shaped wedges which would need to resist one atmosphere of pressure and wind loading with appropriate factor of safety). That includes building of smaller structures to get the many design issues worked out. That's not quite good enough a vacuum, but it's getting there.

If you're going to build a truly massive vacuum chamber on the cheap, then you can probably build it somewhere like Fall River Pass in Colorado so that you only have to hold off .65 Atmospheres of pressure, although I don't know if there are any suitable pre-existing depressions around there that you can use. Honestly, your plan sounds pretty neat and is probably practical. The problem is that inflatable vacuum chambers are still a pretty novel technology. So, you would be basing one highly experimental project on another highly experimental project.

The space experiment is also an interesting idea. I personally wish we lived in an environment where this kind of research could be done, with the recognition that the potential returns are vast. That's not what we get however. We're lucky to get ITER and they're already grumbling about the cost and fudging the numbers to try to kill support. After all, this whole article is a sensationalist bit trying to claim that the actual cost of ITER has gone way up when, if you read it, it's evident that what's really happening is that the long-term cost is going up because they're not shelling out the money in the short term.

Comment: Re:more pseudo science (Score 1) 864

See. This is the sort of thing I find really strange. I remember taking a geology course where the professor explained all about the various layers to be found in dirt that develop naturally over thousands of years... then pointed out that we would be very unlikely to ever actually experience those layers in the real world because there's so little dirt in the world that hasn't been turned over by human beings. There's only about 5 acres of land per person on the planet. That's just the people, consider how how much manufacturing waste and resource use and pollution there is for every one of those humans. Consider how long it persists compared to a human lifespan. It's truly baffling how anyone could think that our ability to change the world with our activities would be small.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234