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Comment Re:The emperor has no clothes (Score 1) 526

Every jurisdiction effectively picks and chooses which laws it's going to enforce and when. It's called "prioritizing". And sure enough, that's what the feds are doing:

The memo directs federal prosecutors to focus their resources on eight specific areas of enforcement, rather than targeting individual marijuana users, which even President Obama has acknowledged is not the best use of federal manpower.

The moral and legal value of prioritization is in the results (i.e. who gets targeted and who gets ignored), not the act itself.

Comment Re:Weird choice of measurements (Score 5, Informative) 85

Accuracy measures how close the frequency is to the target, on average. Stability measures how the frequency drifts over time (and temperature, etc.). Accuracy is more of an absolute measurement while stability is more of a relative measurement. From the article:

The ticks of any atomic clock must be averaged for some period to provide the best results. One key benefit of the very high stability of the ytterbium clocks is that precise results can be achieved very quickly. For example, the current U.S. civilian time standard, the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, must be averaged for about 400,000 seconds (about five days) to achieve its best performance. The new ytterbium clocks achieve that same result in about one second of averaging time.

and

[U.S. civilian standard cesium reference clock] NIST-F1's performance is described in terms of accuracy, which refers to how closely the clock realizes the cesium atom's known frequency, or natural vibration rate. Accuracy is crucial for time measurements that must be traced to a primary standard. NIST scientists plan to measure the accuracy of the ytterbium clocks in the near future, and the accuracy of other high performance optical atomic clocks is under study at NIST and JILA.

So it sounds like accuracy is defined in terms of how well the clock reproduces the ideal frequency of the physical process it's based on. Hopefully there's a physicist or two around who can give us the exciting details.

Comment Re:NBD, it seems (Score 1) 159

How many times do we need to see this "coincidence", of a comet diving into the sun, followed by an instaneous CME, to at least calculate the probability of CMEs being caused by comets vs not caused by comets?

If you watch the video, you'll see that the CME happens well before the comet hits the sun.

Comment Maybe not all the disconnects? (Score 5, Informative) 280

Sarah's Google+ post has an update:

Update: Looks like this is an xHCI specific issue, and probably not the cause of the USB device disconnects under EHCI. To everyone who commented with other USB issues (none of which really sounded related), please email the linux-usb mailing list with a description of your issue.

Comment Re:Why Nepal is sending troops elsewhere? (Score 1) 158

Provide 1280 peacekeepers.
Cost approximately $128,000/month.
Receive compensation from UN of $1.3M. Profit > $1M/month.

Take-home pay is not the only expense. Flying people back and forth to the other side of the world and keeping them supplied is not free, especially in a place with minimal infrastructure. Whatever profit Nepal is making, I doubt it's over $1M/month.

Comment Might as well be the first to bring up Tufte (Score 2) 41

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information has many examples of slick-looking graphics going back decades, long before computers were any good at graphics. How to Lie with Statistics is even older than that. Newspapers and news magazines have always been infamously bad at showing data. It's a rare data graphic that doesn't focus on decoration over content, and that's ignoring the ones that are deliberately distorted.

That being said, most software (I'm looking at you, Excel) is way too helpful about creating bad data graphics.

Comment Bad summary (Score 2) 637

Tell me, Slashdot, how difficult would it be to rewrite an insurance billing system to aggregate a policyholder's out-of-pocket costs?

It's somewhat more difficult when you waste three years assuming the Republicans are going to win big in 2012 and repeal the whole ACA. You gamble, you lose.

Snark aside, the real answer seems to be in the article:

The health law, signed more than three years ago by Mr. Obama, clearly established a single overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for each individual or family. But federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs. In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another.

So insurance companies outsourced different parts of their work to different companies that don't talk to each other. It's not "the computer's fault", it's an administrative problem within the insurance company itself. That text was right above the paragraph quoted in the summary, but curiously the submitter felt the need to ask a rhetorical question instead of including the most important piece of explanation in the entire article.

(Also, have you ever heard a story about a giant years-old financial/billing system that was clean, well-implemented, and easy to maintain and modify? I sure haven't. Not sure why we'd expect anything to be a trivial change in one of those...)

Comment Re:don't worry about it (Score 1) 416

Look at the per capita GDP (in constant dollars). The US in the 1980's was where the Dominican Republic is today. In 1900, the US was far below even the poorest of today's nations. You can also look at carbon emissions: pre-1900, they were less than 1/10th of what they are today; that takes us into the territory of Indonesia, Vietnam, and Morocco. Do you think Americans would be willing to go back to those standards of living? What do you think that would do to Silicon Valley or our other high tech industries?

You are assuming a direct correlation between carbon emissions and GDP that does not exist. CO2/capita in the U.S. has been flat since 1990 while GDP/capita has nearly doubled. Furthermore, the increase in standard of living since 1980 has been driven in large part by advances in computing, which will not go away if fossil fuels are restricted. (Unless your router runs on gasoline?) I haven't been to the Dominican Republic, but American standards of living in 1980 were far from third world, even by today's standards. As for Silicon Valley, I work in the semiconductor industry and I can tell you that semiconductor companies A) do not burn coal in their fabs, and B) are (somewhat) advanced when it comes to environmental friendliness to begin with.

Here's average CO2 emissions in tons per capita for each of the G7 nations (plus Australia for fun) in 2006, the last year before the financial crisis:

Nation CO2 GDP
U.S. 18.8 44623
U.K. 9.1 40481
Canada 16.8 39250
Australia 18 35992
France 5.9 35457
Germany 9.9 35238
Japan 9.7 34102
Italy 7.9 31777
[Slashdot formatting sucks :-( ]

If you plot this, you do indeed get a correlation (R=0.75 for the G7 alone, 0.61 with Australia). But note that it's pretty shallow, and there's a huge variability in carbon emissions. The U.K. has less than half the CO2/capita of the U.S. despite GDP/capita being only 10% lower. France and Germany have nearly indistinguishable GDP/capita but France's emissions are 40% lower. (They have similar population sizes and are right next to each other, too!) Australia has 20% lower GDP than the U.S. despite having similar emissions. None of these countries are bad places to live. If you look at the full list you'll see some of low- to mid-tier countries in the top 20, and some nice developed nations further down.

On top of that, you have the complicating factor of wealth distribution in the U.S., so while GDP per capita has gone up, income per capita for most of the population hasn't. That's mostly an orthogonal issue, but also has a big effect on standard of living.

Nobody has produced a realistic plan for a reduction to 1980's emission levels, let alone pre-1900 emission levels.

We could impose limits through regulation or ramp up a carbon tax over time, but the methods for reducing fossil fuel dependence are left to the private sector, just like they are with e.g. car mileage standards. Governments should set and enforce the goals, but stay out of the details.

And without a firm commitment from China, India, and other developing nations, nothing the US and Europe do would make any significant difference.

North America and Europe account for a third of world CO2 emissions. Making a big cut in that would be a big start, at the very least. Also, the U.S. and Europe are best equipped to develop sustainable technology, so the rest of the world can ride along on our coattails as we figure things out.

If climate change has the impact people claim it has, risk will gradually increase and property values will gradually decline in some areas and increase in others, and people will buy, sell, and move accordingly, with hardly any losses.

Calculable risk might increase gradually, but it's perception of risk that drives the markets. When it comes to disasters, awareness tends to change very suddenly and result in panicked overreaction. (See also: 9/11)

We're talking about climate change here, not other environmental issues ... Why do you keep babbling on about "pollution"?

Because they go together. Burning fossil fuels produces both CO2 and various gasses and particulates that are directly harmful to humans. Addressing one problem implies addressing the other. Air pollution is causing immediate harm to individual people today, which is a very good reason to fight it.

The US could easily cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half without any risk by building modern nuclear power plants. Solar and wind have made great progress due mostly to technologies developed by the private sector unrelated to government programs.

Could, but hasn't. Which is my point -- the ability means nothing if the short-term incentives for doing it are wrong. (By "wrong", I mean distorted by the fact that the long-term harm to other people is not accounted for.)

The doom-and-gloom prediction for government-driven innovation is that it develops costly, impractical technologies, leads to massive ties and corruption in the relationship between government and industry, and leads to the technologies being misapplied; in short, just what our military-industrial complex is doing, including wars we shouldn't be engaging in.

I agree with you about the MIC causing problems, but despite some high-profile failures their hardware does regularly push the bounds of e.g. aerospace technology. NASA did get to the moon. ARPA did sow the seeds of the internet. That being said, I'm not advocating any open-ended commitments. There need to be quantifiable goals with deadlines. And again, the private sector would do most of the development work, with basic research aided by government funding.

And the doom-and-gloom prediction for overregulation and government intervention in the economy are slow growth, job losses, and outsourcing. Both of those happen to be just what we are experiencing and what progressives themselves are complaining about.

We disagree on the causes, of course. (GDP growth varies wildly independent of the regulatory regime, regulations were loosening for many years prior to the financial crisis, job losses are due to inadequate stimulus, reducing regulations won't help Americans compete with people who live 15 to a house on pennies a day, etc., etc.) But I'm sure you've heard all that before, and it's really a separate conversation.

On the other hand, what clearly hasn't happened is any of the massive gloom-and-doom predictions of environmentalists or people advocating sustainability: hunger and poverty have decreased greatly since WWII despite growing populations, and health and longevity have greatly increased.

Whether it's environmental catastrophes, epidemics, or network security breaches, if people do their jobs right, the doom-and-gloom never happens. The goal is prevention, after all. So far, many predictions of doom have been avoided because people have taken action -- acid rain, the ozone hole, (more) massive air and water pollution, endangered species, take your pick. Where people have been complacent, there's been a lot of damage to show for it.

Comment Re:don't worry about it (Score 1) 416

A carbon tax is laughably ineffective.

You know this how?

If you want to stop climate change, you have to stop burning fossil fuels altogether.

No, you don't, and reductions don't have to happen instantly. A fairly rapid reduction to (picking an arbitrary target) pre-1980s levels could be followed by a lengthier reduction to (also arbitrary) pre-1900 levels, etc. The sooner we start, the more gradual the change can be. The Earth can absorb some CO2 emissions, so we don't ever need to go all the way to zero.

You simply don't seem to grasp what a massive intervention that is.

Of course I do. But nobody's proposing that except deniers.

Those are changes that will take centuries if not millennia.

Miami begs to disagree. We will have infrastructure problems long before any cities are underwater. Miami is an extreme case, but more typical cases certainly will not take centuries, let alone millennia.

Also, climate change isn't the only environmental problem we have. There's the aforementioned air pollution, as well as increasing demands on fresh water supplies, rising oil prices, etc. Resource shortages tend to cause very expensive problems which are very expensive to fix. We need to be addressing these issues now, not waiting around to see just how bad the damage will be.

Humanity has experienced such massive changes throughout most of history and people aren't even aware of it.

Sure they were (and are). Massive environmental change means food shortages, especially when you're a peasant farmer with no trucks or airplanes to transport you far away. We just don't care that much about people that starved to death 500 years ago. Not as many people die today because we spend lots of money to keep them alive through droughts, floods, and other natural disasters.

There are also few costs associated with it anyway: cities and arable land constantly have to be renewed, and moving them gradually as they are being renewed doesn't add extra cost.

This is only true if the changes take place on a time scale much longer than a human lifetime. Otherwise, a lot of people end up with property they can't sell. And moving property lines by fiat takes exactly the sort of totalitarian government that we don't want.

I have strong faith in technology to be able to end carbon emissions. In fact, I think that's what will naturally happen, provided people don't foolishly intervene with heavy-handed governmental interventions, tax incentives, and other such programs.

There are two problems with this. The first is that many, many people are already being hurt by ongoing pollution, and the second is that natural processes have their own timetable. So far market-driven change has proved elusive. It is quite possible for government intervention to advance the state of an art, as it regularly does with military technology. Again, this is a situation where the predicted economic doom and gloom never seems to materialize.

Comment Re:don't worry about it (Score 1) 416

There is no realistic way of stopping the warming that would lead to such a release; short of imposing some kind of totalitarian worldwide government and destroying the world economy, people are not going to stop burning fossil fuels in massive quantities.

How come all the global warming "skeptics" are never skeptical of this kind of economic/political strawman argument? Every helpful government program or regulatory regime ever made has generated far more predictions of doom and gloom than environmental catastrophes. Weren't the Clean Air Act (1963) and Clean Water Act (1972) supposed to destroy the economy too? Wasn't Medicare (1965) supposed to bring about a socialist dictatorship? Wasn't the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) supposed to shutter ever small business in the country? None of that stuff ever happens, but it's always taken for granted that this time is different, this time the economy really *will* be destroyed, you'll see! There is no way that fighting global warming requires a "totalitarian worldwide government", either, any more than fighting ozone depletion did. Of course, no one is actually proposing any such thing, but constantly repeating it has sure convinced a lot of Slashdotters.

How come all the people who are terrified of the "massive" cost of a carbon tax (that they can't quantify) shrug off the idea of having to relocate most of our agriculture and the populations of many major cities? Not to mention conflict caused by mass migration? Or even the general air pollution caused by fossil fuels that results in respiratory problems for millions of people? I guess those are other people's problems.

Finally, how come all the people who have the utmost faith in technology's ability to help us cope with climate change never consider that maybe technology could help us cope with higher carbon prices too? It's not like the price of natural resources has never risen before.

Comment Re:I'm confused (Score 1) 287

Genuinely: what's this about regular old Flash being unable to store data for more than a year or three? Have I seriously misunderstood or is this a real problem I've been extremely lucky to avoid thus far?

I only know about embedded NOR flash, but in that case the rated lifetime is after the max number of write/erase cycles with storage under worst-case conditions on the worst units to come out of the fab. Note that commodity NAND flash is heavily dependent on ECC, so the spec number might not reflect the true lifetime of the bits themselves. At reasonable temperatures and usage patterns with a more typical unit, the data will likely last much longer.

But again, I haven't seen anyone's internal NAND reliability data, so take this with a grain of salt, and always back up your data.

Comment Magnetism = relativistic electricity? (Score 4, Interesting) 67

Question for any physicists in the audience: I have long heard that magnetic forces can be described as relativistic effects of classical electricity (here, for instance). How do magnetic monopoles fit into this? Are they are purely quantum mechanics/QFT concept, or is there some way to describe them classically that makes it clear why so many people are expecting to find them?

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