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Comment There will never be a shortage of helium (Score 1) 190

There will never be a shortage of helium. Only a shortage of really cheap helium.

Helium is continuously produced by alpha decay of radioactive materials inside the earth. It exists in various concentrations in all natural gas reserves.

Some of those reserves (e.g. some wells in Texas or the one now found in Tanzania) have unusually high helium concentrations, making production costs much lower. The U.S. government used the Texas wells to set up a strategic reserve in the early to mid 20th century (when zeppelins were still a thing, and later for the space race).

Towards the end of the 20th century, it gradually sold this inventory into the market, effectively subsidizing it with tax paid by americans during the cold war. This created a disincentive for developing the capability of producing helium from lower grade sources. The uncertainty in the market raised prices, based on the perception of an impending shortage.

Without the Tanzania find, the increased price would have eventually convinced someone to invest in the infrastructure for separating helium from lower grade sources, eliminating the dependency on the chances of finding high grade sources.

Of course, if someone *had* done so, he would have been greatly disappointed by the Tanzania find reducing the price hurt the return on their investment. That's the risk of investing.

Comment "People actually do drugs for fun?" (Score 4, Interesting) 760

There was a question on some forum (perhaps AskReddit) for formerly poor people about what surprised them the most after they became better off.

One poster claimed that he was surprised people with more money actually do drugs for recreation. Everyone where he grew up that used drugs did it to soothe the pain. Everyone knew it. Everyone also knew the price. And those that chose this way were not judged too much.

Comment Universal income (Score 1) 1052

Virtually all countries employ some kind of differential taxation and/or benefits ostensibly meant to help those who have less.

Universal income is just a simpler way and more efficient to implement them. Get rid of all those complex systems. Also gets rid of any incentives for people to be intentionally miserable.

This is assuming, of course, those other systems are dismantled. Many people are employed by those systems or make a living optimizing and gaming those systems. They will will all end up having to look for new jobs. This is the hard part.

Comment Re: Early (Score 2) 51

Startups are defined by rapid growth. It is probably too easy to get uncontrolled and inefficient growth, too. Remember this is not a software company that can support millions of end users per employee. They grow at startup rates with lots of real world locally managed locations.

This is unfortunate but not really surprising.

Comment Let us teach them about information (Score 1) 352

We live in a world of information. So let us teach them about information first. What is information? How has it been encoded, stored, reproduced, processed and transmitted throughout history? What is probability? How does information affect our beliefs about the probability of events? What is encryption? How trustworthy is a source of information? How do we assess that?

Learning about information must include material about the concept of processing information by an algorithm - but actual coding is not necessarily for everyone. Being literate about information is an fundamental skill for anyone who lives in the information age.

Comment Re:More important than the sonic boom (Score 1) 63

... they were faced with the tough task of competing against Concorde, which was already established and flying ...

... and developed with French and British government funding. While the Concorde was operationally profitable for a while, it never made anywhere close to its original development costs. I can understand Boeing sour about it.

Comment Surprise: font doesn't work well when misused (Score 2) 182

The font was designed for reflective white on green. The legibility studies are invalid for black on yellow.

I guess the font designers should have foreseen this and designed a family of two fonts called "negative" and "positive", but I cannot really fault them for failing to fully appreciate the magnitude of human incompetence.

Comment Re:Why not a vacuum? (Score 1) 175

Yes, the air cushion is an issue. I am sure it can be solved, though. Remember that the head assembly of the cheapest optical drive maintains micron accuracy for both tracking and focus distance while the disk wobbles with each rotation (it's never really centered or rotates in-plane). The head is mounted on voice coils and uses active feedback loops.

If you use vacuum and passive magnetic levitation bearings the energy to keep the disk rotating drops to virtually zero. You can have cold storage that is ready to wake up and access in a 100 milliseconds.

Comment CloudFlare have another pragmatic proposal (Score 1) 115

CloudFlare have another pragmatic proposal - require CAs to randomize the certificate serial numbers instead of using predictable sequential numbers. Note that this precaution would have made even MD5 certificates safe against current known attacks.


Comment First of all, don't call it statistics (Score 1) 90

First of all, don't call it statistics.

Just give them some fun game where they need to decide whether green Gabroans from the planet Gabroa are more or less likely to be wearing hats than other Gabroans based on the (relatively small) sample they have seen.

Reward them accordingly.

It's all about observing thing. It's the best method we have for determining things about the world from out imperfect observations. It's exciting stuff!

Why has statistics become synonymous with "that boring course you have to take"? Or worse, that stuff you sniff about dismissively while you complain how people can "prove" anything with statistics.

Comment Depends on your unit system (Score 1) 207

If you use Planck Units then all your coefficients (G, Ke etc) are set to a value of 1. All fields and forces are now the same. The basic equations governing the behavior of energy and matter do not favor one force over another.

Matter itself is now the issue. The question changes from "Why is Gravity the Weakest Force" to "Why is matter so fluffy?" (i.e. why is the the mass of elementary particles that make up matter so small relative to their charge).

Comment Re:Where I live there are no mail trucks (Score 1) 277

>> drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds

Well that's good. I'm sure 55 pound weights dropped from 400 feet are harmless.

A four ton delivery vehicle at 25 miles per hour is not exactly harmless, either. In assessing the overall impact, you take into account both the potential damage from an accident and the probability of such accidents. For example, the fact that said delivery vehicle is operated by a driver that has been on the road for many hours and makes frequent stops and that the drone is equipped with 8 redundant rotor/motors and no doubt many other redundant systems and failure management strategies from the planning of the flight path, monitoring of vehicle health and constant assessment of possible damage-minimizing crash locations at all times.

I believe the expected impact of such drones should be an overall reduction in the death, injury, property damage and environmental impact associated with delivering replacements for important items chewed by dogs.

Comment Re:The real worry should be Kessler Syndrome (Score 1) 98

Just making a single important orbit permanently uninhabitable can be pretty devastating.

Imagine a small satellite in a retrograde orbit close to the geosynchronous ring. The satellite is just a big hunting rifle cartridge full of buckshot with a tiny remote controlled gas canister that can turn it into a slowly expanding cloud of ruin. It will destroy everything in that orbit within twelve hours, hitting satellites at a relative speed of 6000 m/s.

[shudder] I didn't know I was that evil.

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