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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?

Comment Correlations (Score 1) 103

I'm no statistician, but I ran quick-and-dirty linear correlations on the rankings from the MIT site with Excel (shut up; I'm at work). Oddly, the strongest correlation was a negative one between Safer and Depressing -- stronger even than Wealthier/Safer. Here are my results, if anyone's curious. (Some repeated for readability.)

Wealthy/Boring: -.32
Wealthy/Depressing: -.79
Wealthy/Livelier: .49
Wealthy/Safer: .79

Safer/Wealthier: .79
Safer/Boring: -.15
Safer/Depressing: -.84
Safer/Livelier: .24

Livelier/Wealthier: .49
Livelier/Boring: -.61
Livelier/Depressing: -.22
Livelier/Safer: .24

Depressing/Wealthier: -.79
Depressing/Boring: .27
Depressing/Livelier: -.22
Depressing/Safer: -.84

Maybe an actual statistician can tell us something more interesting.

Comment Was there another movie? (Score 4, Informative) 1029

And sooner than he may have thought, the implosion has arrived: in the past couple weeks, six wannabe blockbusters have cratered at the North American box office: 'R.I.P.D.,' 'After Earth,' 'White House Down,' 'Pacific Rim,' and 'The Lone Ranger.'

That's only five movies, not six. Was that number a typo, or did you leave a movie out?

Comment Re:Learn OpenCL (Score 4, Informative) 198

Or when hardware engineers design chips, do they actually model out the components of every single transistor?

Chip design is absurdly complicated (even on the digital side), and involves several layers of abstraction. In roughly increasing level of detail:

* Spec level: high-level behavioral description of the functionality of a digital system, something like "8-bit 115.2kbps UART" or "2MHz PWM with 0-100% duty cycle in 0.1% increments".
* HDL/RTL level: software-like description of the complete system design. Can range from higher-level (describing behavior) to lower-level (describing specific logic). When people talk about buying, selling, or creating "IP" in the chip design world, they're usually talking about RTL for a single functional unit.
* Gate level: Logic gates and flip-flops and their connections.
* Transistor level: The transistors that make up the gates, and their connections.
* Device level: The behavior of an individual transistor.
* Physical layout: Just what it sounds like; the actual arrangements of metal and silicon.

There are some more in between, but that should give you an idea. HDLs are not necessarily low-level. For large designs (like modern SoCs), it takes some *very* expensive and complex software to go deeper into the list, and the process is not entirely automated. So I wouldn't say hardware design can't be high-level. The difference is that in hardware, you always have to care about the lowest level when you're doing your high-level design, while in software you can take more things for granted. So even though a board-level design might just be a bunch of off-the-shelf chips hooked together, it still takes a lot of work to make sure everything comes out right.

Comment Re:Not just NYC (Score 1) 382

You do know that weather alerts and amber alerts can be turned off, but not alerts sent out by the President of the United States [fcc.gov], right?

That's because wireless alerts are descended from systems intended to warn the public about an incoming nuclear attack. ICBMs take less than 30 minutes to hit their target (much less for nearby sub-launched missiles), so the warnings were set up to interrupt every TV channel and radio station immediately. The civil defense functionality has never been used, and it probably won't be anytime soon.

Comment Ambiguous pronunciation (Score 1) 478

I searched for Houston, TX and got drums.spark.rarely, which brings up the problem of ambiguous pronunciation -- is it drum.spark.rarely, drums.park.rarely, or drums.spark.rarely? They might need to add some more filters. Maybe check for homonyms too.

I like the idea of a shorthand for global coordinates. There are places where this could be really useful. Aren't there streets in Tokyo (and London?) with no names? Now everybody in the world has an easy-to-write* address. It would also be useful for meet-ups. A three meter square is a lot less ambiguous than a street address. And while there's no simple distance/direction calculation, there is some built-in error checking -- if you get the wrong word you'll probably get a location a long way off (c.f. lat/long typos, which can give any size error in any direction).

It would be neat if there were a way to algorithmically generate place names from GPS coordinates and get a similar scheme, but that seems unlikely.

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