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Comment Re:Obvious missing option -- ELECTIVES! (Score 4, Insightful) 313

I would argue that food prep should be a required class. When I was in school, everyone was required to take cooking, sewing, and wood and metal shop. Cooking is, or ought to be, a daily activity for most people; they certainly shouldn't count on a lifestyle that has somebody else preparing all their meals. A cooking class with a good emphasis on nutrition could do a lot to reduce widespread obesity.

Comment Re:Use Class Rank (Score 1) 264

Grading on the curve assumes that all student cohorts are pretty similar, but that some courses/exams are easy and some are hard. Your way assumes that all courses are exactly as hard as each other, but makes no assumptions about the other students.

Grading on a curve assumes that the question grades are intended to answer is the relative positioning of the students in the class. Grading on a straight percentage assumes that the most interesting question is how well the students have mastered the material. I would argue that the second question is more interesting than the first. If you discover that the students are routinely getting mostly good grades, that means it's time to make the course (or maybe just the test) more challenging, not to give some of them artificially bad grades even though they've learned the material.

My general feeling is that grading on a curve is a crutch for professors who don't know or care how to write good tests. Rather than creating a test that will do a good job of sorting the students out by ability, they create any old test and then force-fit the scores to the distribution they expect. It forces the students to compete for an artificially limited number of good scores, making them competitors and discouraging cooperation that might actually help them learn better.

Comment Re:I'd say Great Idea (Score 1) 192

As the summary says, knowing that you're being monitored all of the time would keep the cops on their best behavior.

Only as long as the records are as readily available to people outside the police force as to the police themselves. If the police are free to produce recordings only when they find it convenient, they are useless for holding the police accountable.

Comment Re:Fail by all posters so far on the issue (Score 3, Informative) 692

I certainly wouldn't say that Prop 13 is an unalloyed good, but you're partly misunderstanding how it works. The assessment only goes up- or only goes up by more than 2%/year- when the property changes ownership, i.e. when it's sold or inherited, not when it changes occupants. This means it has the kind of effect you're describing mostly for owner occupied housing, not for rental apartments. What it really does is to give a tax advantage to owners who have owned a long time, whether they live in the property or not.

It's also important not to exaggerate the importance of property tax in the overall cost of a property. Prop 13 also rolled back property taxes to 1% of the value of the property, and while there have been some tax increases since then, typical property tax rates in California are around 1.25%. If somebody wants to sell their house to move into a smaller house, a big jump in real estate prices will generally give them big windfall profits on the sale that will soften the blow of higher taxes on the new place. There's also a special clause that lets people over 65 carry some of the reduced assessment from their old house if they sell and buy a new place; value in their new house up to the sale price of their old house will be assessed at the assessment for their old house, so their taxes won't go up unless they're moving into a more expensive house.

Comment Re:Fail by all posters so far on the issue (Score 5, Informative) 692

Please note that rising property taxes is not a big issue in California because of Prop 13, which prevents properties from being reassessed until their next transfer of ownership. People who already own houses in the neighborhood will not see their property taxes go up any more than they otherwise would. Prop 13 was passed specifically to prevent owners from being forced out of their homes by rising property taxes, and it does a good job. Gentrification may increase the cost of living in other ways (e.g. by replacing affordable local stores with more expensive ones) but it will also help the local city's finances and help to pay for better public services.

The people who really lose out to gentrification are renters, who certainly can be priced out of their neighborhood. Even rent control and other tenant protections can be worked around, if nothing else by landlords selling to owners who plan to live there rather than rent out the property.

Comment Re:I wish I could say "none" (Score 2) 312

Might see a bit less tailgating and fewer multi-car pileups if CA drivers knew those numbers.

Or not. The problem on the roads where I see the most tailgating is that there simply isn't enough space for drivers to maintain recommended tailing distance at the common driving speed. Instead, the drivers have learned to reduce their tailing distance and watch more than one car ahead, which works remarkably well. The number of accidents is actually pretty small when you consider the number of vehicle miles driven.

Comment Re:Get rid of those things (Score 1) 944

It is government regulation that makes the system work the way it does. Basically, utility rates have always been regulated, but California regulates them differently than most places. The amount utilities are allowed to charge depends heavily on consumption, not just production costs. When consumption goes down, the utilities are allowed to raise their rates enough that their profitability goes up rather than down. It produces the unusual situation where a company is encouraging its customers to buy less, and that's entirely by design.

An important point is that most of the specific conservation programs aren't dictated by the government, just the overall pricing rules. The utilities are free to come up with their own plans for encouraging conservation, and they naturally have a strong incentive to find the easiest, cheapest way of doing it. The utilities apparently think that CFLs are a big enough win over incandescent bulbs that they have subsidized them to get people to switch. Another big program is an attempt to get people to give up second refrigerators. Many people who got new refrigerators would move their old ones to their garages and keep using them. That was convenient because it meant people could have a whole second fridge full of cold soda and beer, but the old refrigerators tended to be inefficient, garages are bad places to put them (the higher ambient temperatures in the summer make the fridges power hogs), and a second fridge is more of a convenience than a necessity. Getting rid of them turned out to save a lot of power for a fairly minor inconvenience, so a modest cash reward was enough to get people to get rid of them.

I think that points to a big factor in all kinds of energy saving technology: people have only a vague idea of how much power different things use. We get a single electric bill rather than an itemized one, so it's very difficult to see where the money is going. If we don't know what in our house is using the most power, it's hard to make intelligent decisions about conservation. That's why policies that go beyond just raising prices are more likely to be successful at encouraging conservation. The average person may not have a very good idea about what in their house is wasting power, but the electrical utilities have the resources to figure out what things are especially wasteful on a larger scale. If you give the utilities the incentive to reduce consumption rather than increase it, they can do a more effective job of conservation than individuals can.

Comment Re:Get rid of those things (Score 1) 944

I am suprised a local/regional/state/country government doesn't just force the issue and issue a "Incandescent for LED trade scheme".

That's pretty much what's happening here in California. Our electrical utilities are regulated so that they are actually more profitable when electrical consumption goes down, so it makes sense for the utilities to subsidize energy saving technology. You can get rebates from the utility when you buy energy saving appliances, and they will either subsidize or give away energy saving lightbulbs. They seem to have concentrated on CFLs rather than LEDs, but the utilities have really been pushing them.

Comment Re:faint praise (Score 1) 944

You must live somewhere with unreasonably cheap electricity, then. If you assume a lifespan of 1000 hours for an incandescent bulb, a 100W bulb will use 100 kWh over its lifetime. Unless you're getting your power for less than $0.02/kWh, you're spending more on power than you are on bulbs.

Meanwhile, CFLs have lifespans in the range of 5000-10,000 hours. That means that even if you are paying 5-10 times as much for a CFL as you do for an incandescent- and that will buy you good quality CFLs- you're still paying no more per hour of lifetime than you are for incandescents. Unless you have to keep a very tight rein on your spending, any power savings at all will pay for itself. Power savings on the order of 75%, which is typical for CFLs, is a huge win.

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