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Comment: Re:It's almost like the Concord verses the 747 aga (Score 1) 155

by w3woody (#49154569) Attached to: Hyperloop Testing Starts Next Year

I just cannot see how a large tube holding a vacuum extending 100 miles or 300 miles or 500 miles or 2,800 miles is ever going to be cheaper than a rail track the same length (assuming right of way problems can be solved--and note the high speed rail system between SF and LA had to be slowed down because right-of-way issues put too many curves in the track) is ever going to be cheaper per passenger mile. And if it turned out per passenger mile a train was cheaper (without government subsidies) than flying a fleet of 737's, do you think investors in their right mind would fly a fleet of expensive 737's when they could run cheaper trains?

And one thing people forget when counting the cost of using trains to transport people or goods is the fact that the first railroads which connected the U.S. continent was built on the cheap with slave labor.

Comment: It's almost like the Concord verses the 747 again. (Score 5, Insightful) 155

by w3woody (#49153497) Attached to: Hyperloop Testing Starts Next Year

Meaning the Boeing 747 became extremely popular while the Concord wound up eventually going to the dustbin of history because per passenger-mile, the Boeing 747 was cheaper than the Concord, despite taking much longer to move passengers from New York to London.

And that's the problem I see with the Hyperloop: sure, it may be technically possible to send passengers in a train in a tube with a vacuum at 800 miles per hour from Los Angeles to New York, but at the end of the day, its the cost per passenger mile that matters. And a large airplane traveling along at 500 miles per hour, which doesn't require 3,000 miles of dedicated hardware to travel through, is going to be far cheaper than buying a 3,000 mile strip of land and building a tube. across it.

Comment: Re:Sounds good (Score 5, Interesting) 593

by w3woody (#49126339) Attached to: Republicans Back Down, FCC To Enforce Net Neutrality Rules

I'm also concerned partially because at its root, the problem with broadband in this country is a lack of local choice. I believe competition (such as Google Fiber) going up against the phone company and the cable company would help lower prices while raising speeds far better than regulation that explicitly acknowledges monopoly status and exchanges (easily watered down) performance demands for guaranteed profit margins on (easily manipulable) books. I mean, the real problem with explicit acknowledgement of monopoly status is an implicit guarantee that the phone company and the cable company may not fail--and if they make poor infrastructure investment choices, they're insulated from failure.

I'm not suggesting this can't work. Only that there are a bunch of ways in which this can go haywire, so to me, the FCC's actions is simply the first step in a very long battle.

Comment: Interviews and candidate quality. (Score 1) 809

by w3woody (#49049607) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Portion of Developers Are Bad At What They Do?

I've both helped hire people and have been a hiring manager, as well as the hot-shot programmer and now becoming the wise gray-beard everyone speaks reverently to and then ignores.

When I interview a candidate on the phone, my primary interest is to screen out the candidates who are either obviously lying on their resume, or who have inflated their resume or are otherwise uncommunicative. (You'd be amazed at how many are unable to hold a conversation about the stuff they've supposedly worked on for a couple of years. Almost as if they put it into their resume just to inflate it. And I feel free to go through any part in the resume; for example, I dinged a guy because he put in his resume he was a private pilot. Having a father who was a pilot and learning to be a pilot myself, I asked him questions related to his being a private pilot--which he utterly failed to answer. And if you're willing to lie about something that irrelevant, what else are you lying about?)

In person, however, I may ask a couple of questions about the specific work I'm doing. But for the most part I stick to straight forward development questions: I ask the person to solve a problem which requires a loop, to walk a linked list, to search for primes. What I'm looking for, however, isn't if the person is a mathematician, but how he solves the problem: does he automatically close the curly brace when he writes the open curly brace at the top? Does he store intermediate results somewhere, and how does he chooses to store them? Does he use any naming conventions in his sketched out code? When he gets stumped, how does he talk to me about solving the problem? Does he come up with anything I hadn't thought of?

And that's because I'd rather hire someone who seems smart and communicative and who can sketch code on the fly than someone who may happen to know about public/private key systems.

My theory is that specific problems that revolve around the web site can be learned on the fly: someone who is smart can look up how OpenSSL works, for example, and start implementing code against OpenSSL. But someone who has OpenSSL experience but who is otherwise unable to communicate effectively or solve problems on the fly is going to be useless as soon as we move on to other problems.

And my theory is the same regardless if you're hiring a beginner out of college or an architect with 20 years of experience; the architect I'll just ask much harder questions, as well as probative questions about the sort of design work he's done and the types of design problems he's had to face.

In terms of quality, I've found that roughly a quarter of the people I interview I'd happily work with, but for architectural level stuff, it's hard to find someone who is really good. That's because software development seems to weed people out after 10 to 20 years--and many who survive that long do so out of inertia, not because they're really good at what they do. So if you want someone with 20 years of experience who can architect something complex and get it right the first time--you're going to be looking a long time.

(And if you happen to be hiring in Raleigh, North Carolina and are paying above competitive rates for a first rate architect and developer, send me a private message. :-D )

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 2) 266

by w3woody (#48593899) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

But think of it: fundamentally insurance is a finite pool that insures against finite losses. Home owners insurance, for example, only pays out at most what the replacement value of your home is, and car insurance only pays out at most what is the replacement value of your car.

This model clearly breaks down--even in government-run "single payer" systems (such as the example I gave about British health care) when you come up against the potentially unbounded cost of a major medical emergency.

After all, what is the replacement value of a human being? $100,000? $1 million? $10 million?

What that strongly suggests to me is that as a society we place more value on preserving human life regardless of cost, regardless of the fact that this cannot properly be handled in a free market environment.

And by definition in the edge cases where the free markets break down is where society should step up and socialize costs.

This isn't a matter of "privatizing the losses"; the breakdown has to do with the potentially unbounded cost of health care for an individual due to circumstances that cannot be properly predicted. For example, I know someone who needs nearly continuous care for the simple reason that she was unfortunately in a car accident that wasn't her fault. Allowing her to die because it's too expensive to let her live is not an option, and assuming that corporations are boundless fonts of endless money is absurd--and penalizing an insurance company because it is unable to cover an unexpected multi-million dollar loss (because as a society we don't want her to die) doesn't really fit the notion of insurance as covering a finite (and maximum) amount.

Thus, door 'C': socialize high-cost patients.

We already do something akin to this with Medicare; the whole point of Medicare was to cover the expenses of the elderly rather than having those expenses covered by private insurance. (And the structure of Medicare is pretty similar to what I'm proposing, with Medicare effectively serving as a back-stop against private supplemental insurance. We just think of Medicare as the base-line insurance and supplemental insurance as covering the 'gaps', when in some sense it's really the other way around.)

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 1) 266

by w3woody (#48593509) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

Because currently no mechanism exists to force a corporation to take action.

My hypothetical above was premised on the idea that if we were to listen to our emotions and demand that a corporation not leave the health care business simply because it was unprofitable--and after all there are lives to save--that we would create a mechanism which would effectively exempt corporations from folding.

And note if the only way I can exit a business is to zero out millions in assets I own, that's a pretty hefty burden being placed on me.

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 1) 266

by w3woody (#48593425) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

I would think the solution would be quite the opposite: subsidize the ramp-up costs for generic drug manufacturers so that when drugs fall out of patent they can be easily manufactured by other drug makers.

My understanding is that there are essentially two classes of drug manufacturers--those which make patented compounds, and those which make generics. Patented compounds tend to be very expensive because it can cost billions to bring a new compound to market, largely because of the cost to get FDA approval for the compound--so by default patented compounds will be extremely expensive so that those profits can be used to pay off the R&D costs and subsidize future R&D costs for future compounds. Generics, on the other hand, are cheap because they are not paying for R they're just paying to make the compound.

The real problem, of course, goes around the high R&D costs for creating new compounds. And it is there where, if I were King For A Day, I would concentrate my efforts, by ramping up government funding of research efforts by providing more grant money to universities for basic R&D research into newer compounds, and I would also see if I couldn't reduce the regulatory overhead for obtaining FDA approval.

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 1) 266

by w3woody (#48593383) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

Like soylent green, companies are made of people.

And a "company" is just a legal fiction by which a group of people can hold property and IP rights without those property rights being held by any single individual, so that the company can continue to operate when there are changes in personnel.

So if you insist on making a company continue to operate even when it is no longer profitable--as was in my example--then at some level that company still must contain people: a company without any people cannot function except as a passive property owner.

Which means at some level, the practical outcome of requiring a company to actively do something implicitly would make it illegal for that company not to have people working for it--and would require the owners of that company to be active participants, even if only in the management of that company's activities.

Which is a long way of saying that you are effectively requiring someone to act against his will and work for the company without being able to quit--which is akin to slavery.

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 4, Interesting) 266

by w3woody (#48593351) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

Are you saying healthcare should be handled by the government because healthcare is not always profitable?

This goes to a major complaint I have about the way we seem to be approaching health care in the United States: it's always an "either/or" proposition. Either the entirety of 1/6th of the economy in the United States can be handled by free markets, or the entirety cannot. There is never any consideration that perhaps one part isn't profitable under the current rules and needs a rule tweak, or that a small part doesn't work under free market rules and should be socialized but the rest should use free market rules.

Take, for example, discussions about the unprofitability of Emergency Room operations. I've seen the fact that hospitals who run an ER are required to treat anyone--and thus wind up treating the uninsured for minor ailments as a suggestion that the entire health care system is broken and so we need single payer.

But does anyone in the debate consider the possibility that ER visits only represent a very small percentage of the overall costs to the health care system? Does anyone consider the possibility of perhaps just socializing the costs for ER visits--by using taxpayer dollars to implicitly insure the uninsured who use an ER, while leaving the rest of the system alone?

Or take the fact that it is profitable for insurance companies to dump high-expense patients who run up large insurance-paid health care bills due to things like cancer. "Oh, we must switch to single payer, otherwise insurance companies will dump expensive patients and leave them to die." (Never mind that in Great Britain, they are implicitly dumping expensive older patients by pushing them onto the Liverpool Care Pathway without their consent. Bean counters are bean counters regardless of if they work for the government or for private corporations.)

But did anyone consider the possibility of the government backstopping insurance companies for high-expense patients, by (for example) putting a cap on the amount of money an insurance company must pay out in the lifetime of an individual (call it $1 million)--then when you hit that cap, the money beyond that cap comes from the government, filtered through the insurance company? That is, we socialize costs for expensive patients, while privatizing costs below the cap.

Ohhhhh, no. It's "either/or." Because we're too stupid to think of anything more subtle than reshaping the entire industry to fit either in the mould of Ayn Rand or in the mould of Karl Marx.

Comment: Re:Can you say... (Score 2, Interesting) 266

by w3woody (#48593231) Attached to: Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine

This is a slippery slope to slavery, requiring people to do something against their collective will.

"if you are in the healthcare business..."

You know where this leads, don't you? "We've decided to exit the health care business because the requirements to manufacture drugs that are no longer profitable has left us an unprofitable company.

Well, you can't exit the healthcare business anymore.

Comment: What seems to be missing from the comments... (Score 2) 129

by w3woody (#48572505) Attached to: Report: Big Issues Remain Before Drones Can Safely Access National Airspace

What people seem to be missing in all of the comments above is that Amazon and Google are investigating not just using unmanned arial vehicles, but they are also investigating using computer-controlled unmanned arial vehicles: that is, arial vehicles that are not flown with a human operator. So questions about "line of sight" or the nature of the license a human operator holds ignores the whole point of their research.

Beyond this, in order for a company like Amazon to make drone deliveries profitable, we're not talking about a handful of these devices. We're talking about a whole swarm of them making tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of trips a day in a congested area like Los Angeles, in and around the congested class B airspace of LAX, around the congested class C airspace around Burbank, Ontario and John Wayne, by helicopter traffic carrying police, news reporters and tourists, by student pilot traffic out in the San Fernando Valley.

(If a UPS driver makes 100 deliveries a day, as an article I recently read suggested, and assuming an out and back from a warehouse in El Monte takes on average an hour--half an hour each way--and assuming drone deliveries are handled during the same 10 hour window UPS driver operate--this implies it would take around 10 drones to replace that one driver, each making 10 deliveries a day. Multiply this by (as a guesstimate) 1,000 drivers in the Los Angeles area, and you're talking about 10,000 automated pilotless drones swarming the LA skies.)

Comment: Re:No (Score 1) 545

by w3woody (#48535939) Attached to: Should IT Professionals Be Exempt From Overtime Regulations?

I completely agree, thank you. Too often I've seen managers imply strongly that overtime is required, and on almost every project I've worked on, the overtime was only required because the projects were so poorly mismanaged in the first place.

What's sad is that so many IT projects are mismanaged that most people assume it's the norm.

Comment: I feel like this is solving the wrong problem. (Score 1) 77

by w3woody (#48168139) Attached to: An Air Traffic Control System For Drones

It seems to me the real problem is separating drone traffic--including drones bought by amateurs and self-built drones--from passenger carrying aircraft. Meaning rather than sending commands causing drone traffic "swarms" to self-separate or to prevent them from flying outside of their desired area--which strikes me as problematic if you want ot use a drone to inspect a pipeline or inspect telephone wires (for example)--wouldn't it be better to simply create advisories to help separate drones from passenger airplanes?

For example, wouldn't it be better to simply advise drone operators to keep their aircraft 400' AGL (or lower) and keep them out of the approach corridors of various airports (and publish those locations and encourage drone manufacturers to provide maps), and pass laws which make it a potentially criminal offense to operate a drone above 400' or in a landing corridor unless your drone has a transponder, you're in constant contact with ATC (and are being actively separated by ATC) and the drone has the ability to land itself when communications with its operator is lost?

Yes, it'd be a bitch if two drones collide. But there you're just talking about property damage. What frightens me is some idiot with a DJI Phantom and a GoPro trying to get a close-up of a 737 carrying passengers as it attempts to land at LAX--and getting his toy sucked into the engine, taking that engine out and risking everyone on board and everyone on the ground.

Comment: Bad example, interesting points. (Score 1) 240

by w3woody (#48139729) Attached to: Fighting the Culture of 'Worse Is Better'

I think the author's original focusing on C++ as an example of "worse is better" is a sad distraction. Clearly C++ was designed with the goal of being compatible with C. There are plenty of examples of languages which attempted to solve object-oriented programming but threw away backwards compatibility as a design goal: D, Java, and C# come to mind.

That said, I think he does have an interesting point about our unwillingness to sit down and carefully consider our response to problems as they arise during development--that we are constantly chasing incremental changes without considering the technical debt that arises. I've seen it particularly inside many of the companies I've freelanced to; they consider their software an asset rather than a depreciating liability, that must be preserved at all costs--even if that cost is increased technical debt that makes maintenance nearly impossible.

But the real source of the problem, in my opinion, is not a culture which thinks "worse is better." It may appear that way, because many companies engage in tradeoffs which, to the casual observer, seems like they really consider "worse" as "better." The real problem is that many corporations and many organizations don't necessarily reward competence, because they are often run by the incompetent. The Dunning-Kruger effect extends beyond self-assessment. Thus, they treat software as an asset rather than as a depreciating liability: management is unable to properly assess their internal processes and the value of the result. All that work, and we're supposed to throw it away?

The scary part is that to many of the organizations I've freelanced to, too much competence creates organizational friction. The places where I've done work who've ranked my work the best are exactly the places where I've "phoned it in", so to speak, only going a little bit above the call of duty. Go too much above the call of duty, pause everyone to have a considered response and to carefully do what is right, and you find yourself up against very powerful forces who, thanks to their inability to self-assess, push back hard.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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