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Comment Will new firms last long enough to pay claims? (Score 0) 238

No doubt the industry is ripe for disruption. BUT in addition to risk measurement, another big part of insurance is the stability of the insurer, especially with long-term insurance like life insurance. How confident are you that the Uber of insurance will be around when you die 29 years into your 30-year term life insurance policy? Or will they have been acquired a dozen times by companies of varying financial strength?

Comment Re:Arduinos and MCUs (Score 2) 189

Some of the ideas seem like they could be solved by off the shelf hardware. Switching loads based on temperature? Buy a cheap programmable thermostat. If you want to monitor an AC load, you can use your preferred microcontroller along with an opto-coupler. I just did this, using an opto-coupler to monitor my programmable thermostat's relay and report a logic level to a Raspberry Pi, which then logs when the relay is closed (and thus the heat running) versus open (heat off). You can get opto-couplers that include built-in rectifiers, allowing you to work with AC voltages, but of course you need to understand what you are doing to avoid danger.

I used an Electric Imp, which is a WiFi-enabled microcontroller, hooked up to a digital temperature sensor and a photoresistor, as an outdoor temperature/daylight logger. Electric Imp is a hosted solution, which is not ideal - unless someone else reverse engineers the protocol and builds their own server, when the hosted service disappears, it'll be worthless, but it was very easy to use. Here's a graph of the output.

Cost becomes an issue. WiFi connectivity is expensive. Cheapest I think you can do is about $25 - that's what an Electric IMP costs (not including a breakout board), or a Raspberry Pi A+ if you throw in a $5 WiFi USB dongle. So you're looking at a minimum of $25 for each WiFi enabled device (and neither of those are ideal - Imp is hosted and lacks much GPIO, PI is large, delicate, and lacks some basic microcontroller features). That's not very affordable, especially if you're used to throwing a $3 Atmel chip in your devices.

My thinking going forward is to couple Arduinos with relatively inexpensive RF transceivers that work in the ISM band, and simply use one WiFi device (like the Pi) as a base station that can talk to all the other devices. That will bring the cost-per-unit down to maybe $15.

Note that you will be spending a LOT of time on each project. And you will almost certainly spend far more money than you will ever save. But we do it for fun, not for efficiency!

Comment NASA Spinoff (Score 2) 287

Vague statements about technological advances probably won't cut it either. Of the small percentage of people who actually care about general technological advanced, an even smaller percentage are convinced it's best done through dangerous and expensive space programs.

A friend of mine works for a contractor that produces NASA's "Spinoff" publication, which highlights the broad contributions from NASA research and programs: Several of us were ribbing him about how NASA does a pretty bad job of publicizing the publication designed to showcase its public benefits.

Comment Just replace your thermostat. It's easy. (Score 2) 252

"We turned your thermostat up to 85 degrees and you can't change it. We want $5000 worth of Bitcoins in 72 hours--or we find out if your furnace perpetually on full-blast will burn your house down.

You do realize that virtually all consumer thermostats use a fairly standard interface, and they can be swapped with one another, right? This includes the Nest/Ecobee, etc. If someone threatened me like that, I'd laugh at them, disconnect the thermostat from the wall, and attach a cheap replacement.

Comment XML is being generous (Score 4, Informative) 32

Having looked at the XML files they provided, while some are marginally useful, about 1.4 million reply comments are simply dumped into CDATA sections without any consistent formatting or separators. After much regex splitting, it was readily apparent that the downloads they provided were missing about 700k comments. Glad to see they're actually admitting it and may even remedy it.

Comment Re:Weird article (Score 1) 177

I doubt it as its intended to track flying things. This data is already available from multiple sources.

The article mentions several times that it can be used to track cars, trucks, and boats. Obviously we have data from lots of interstate monitoring stations, as well as devices to measure the amount of traffic passing specific points, but I'm not so sure we have such detailed data across such a wide swath of territory (multiple states) that could actually track object movements (rather than, say, just a count of vehicles passing a point). Maybe someone who knows better can chime in.

Comment Weird article (Score 1) 177

Weird article. On the one hand, it presents the blimps as the "last gasp" of a white elephant, defense contract gone-wrong project. On the other hand it plays up fears about privacy that are probably a bit overblown (the blimps don't have cameras, and even if they are installed, the range drops from a 340 mile radius to "dozens" of miles).

Even so, radar can track hundreds of square miles of traffic, and the real question is what the Army will do with that data.

Hopefully they will let transportation analysts have a look at it? Could be really helpful in infrastructure planning.

Comment It's because it's by David Fahrenthold (Score 5, Interesting) 200

I guessed that before even opening the article. He has a habit of writing misleading Washington Post pieces about government waste. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of government waste, but blame does not fall squarely on NASA. I complained about a piece he wrote last year:

David Fahrenthold's April 24, 2013 article "Feds spend at least $890,000 on fees for empty accounts" incorrectly states that the Pentagon spent $435 on a hammer. That claim has been repeatedly debunked for a number of years. The hammer was $15, and the the $420 represented R&D costs for a project spread evenly across all items. See, e.g.:

To which he responded:

Hello, Dave Fahrenthold here from the Washington Post. I wrote the story that dealt with the cost of “zero balance” accounts, and so I was forwarded the correction request you sent earlier. First, thank you for reading, and reading the story so closely. At this point, I don’t see the need for a correction to the story. Here’s why: the story says that the Pentagon “paid” $435 for a hammer. I had written it that way consciously, since I’d seen the findings you referenced in that govexec story: the hammer’s cost to the Pentagon included $420 worth of overhead (which had been distributed evenly among all the items for which the Pentagon was charged in that same order). The cost of the hammer, at least on the Pentagon’s books, was $435. To me, it’s still correct to say that’s what the Pentagon “paid,” no matter how that cost had been calculated. I’d welcome your thoughts, however. I’m grateful again for the feedback. DF

Nice enough, but to me this shows that he very well knew the full story but chose to present it in a purposefully misleading way. Given that there is so much real waste, I don't understand the need to latch on to myths like this.

Comment Re:XBMC Finally? (Score 1) 140

On one hand, it's overkill for little electronics projects where something like an Arduino would be much better suited.

Kind of. But if you want network connectivity for an Arduino, the cost starts to add up very fast. In contrast, you can get a Pi with a built-in ethernet port, or stick in a cheap WiFi dongle.

They recently released the A+, which is $20. You can get USB Wifi dongles for under $10, add $5 for an SD card, so for about $35 you've got a dev board with WiFi. Compare that to the Arduino ethernet shield, which by itself is over $45. The WiFi shield is even more.

The only thing comparable I can think of is the Electric Imp - I've been playing with one over the past few weeks. It's $25 for the unit, which includes built-in WiFi, and $12 for a breakout board. They provide an online IDE that is very easy to use. However, the whole platform is web-hosted, which makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Comment Re:I am by no means a fan of Comcast... (Score 1) 291

"a blog post about the increased electricity costs, where they conclude it's about $8 per year in the mid-Atlantic area -- if it's being used." And this suit is being filed in CALIFORNIA, where the price of power is much higher.

I wouldn't put too much stock in an analysis that confuses kW with kWh (it's probably just a typo, but these things matter). FWIW I live in a state with the fourth highest average electricity costs in the country, so I'm very sensitive to electricity costs. But it's not fair to compare a year's usage at idle vs a year's usage at full load.

If they wanted to make this realistic, they should have estimated the average time one of these public hotspots is used, and then compared that additional cost to the average home usage of the private hotspot (while noting that at some points the usage may overlap, and so the electricity cost may be shared between the two).

Comcast gave me their Technicolor POS modem that came with a public hotspot. It was a terrible router in general, so I took it back and got an older model that has been far more reliable, plays nice with my own router, and doesn't have a public hotspot (or WiFi at all).

Comment Re:Web Searches For These Suck (Score 1) 127

Concur that my initial Googling for R topics was sometimes frustrating. But lately I've had little difficulty. Stackoverflow or the R mailing list archive are usually the top results. Not sure if I've adjusted or what.

My experience is that if you have any experience programming, R makes far more sense than other common packages, like Stata or SPSS. After all, it's an actual programming language. My biggest adjustment was learning how to not use loops.

Don't even get me started on SAS.

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