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Comment Re:The American obsession with self-reliance (Score 1) 367

You think Americans work themselves to death? You've never visited Japan or South Korea, have you? If you sort countries by GDP per capita and GDP per hour worked, the U.S. pretty close to the top (after subtracting city-states and countries with disproportionately high oil and banking revenue), indicating that the U.S. economic system works just fine thank you. Japan and South Korea are (substantially) lower, indicating that their citizens are in fact working themselves to death - more work for less productivity.

What you're arguing is that a better quality of life (measured in time for non-productive activities) is more important than maximizing productivity. That's a legitimate qualitative argument to be making. But it's hardly "evidence of a flawed economic system."

Also bear in mind that higher productivity means a faster rate of technological progress, and technological progress also translates into higher quality of life (measured in time saved from doing undesirable non-productive activities, like washing clothes). So traveling a path of less than maximum productivity will slowly and invisibly over the years result in a lower quality of life. I'm sure people in the 1950s thought life was great, but that was because they didn't know about what technological advances the future would bring. Would you rather work fewer hours and live with 1950s technology, or work more hours and live with 2010s technology?

Americans have to get over their fear of socialism and accept that, all other things being equal, a community that works together is stronger and more prosperous than one that does not.

The problem with socialism is that it's a one size fits all solution. The reason a capitalist economy works is that lots of individual actors rapidly and thoroughly explore the solution space. Those who find better solutions become successful, while those try to set up shop with poor solutions fail and are forced to look elsewhere. I think socialism is great as a safety net (to help those who wound up trying out poor solutions to get back on their feet and try again). But never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of socialism has to be to promote capitalism, not to supplant it. Otherwise you're trading off technological progress for socio-economic stability (and stagnation)

GSM is a great example. The socialist countries enshrined GSM as the one and only digital phone standard. The U.S. was (and still is) widely reviled for allowing CDMA to compete with GSM. But when cellular data became a thing, CDMA absolutely destroyed GSM. GSM relied on giving each phone a timeslice to communicate with a tower. This meant that a tower had to divide its bandwidth among all phones, even phones which didn't need their full timeslice for data. CDMA allows all phones to transmit simultaneously, and uses orthogonal codes to tell them apart. The transmissions of the other phones then become a noise floor for each particular phone's transmissions. The phones which don't need data at that particular moment simply don't transmit, resulting in less noise and thus more bandwidth for the phones which do need data.

GSM was vastly inferior at data transmission than CDMA. Within a year GSM threw in the towel and licensed CDMA and added it to the spec (the 3G data standards on GSM mostly used wideband CDMA). If the U.S. had followed the socialist countries and required GSM, our cellular data speeds today would probably be around 1 Mbps. And we probably wouldn't be where we are today with LTE because most LTE implementations use OFDMA - orthogonal frequencies instead of orthogonal codes. CDMA paved the way for LTE by acting as proof of concept that this bizarre "everyone talks at once and we'll use orthogonal x to tell them apart" idea actually works and could scale into a nation-wide network.

Comment Re:Interesting how few controls there are (Score 2) 118

How do people fall for phishing scams anymore? Everyone has to know this by now -- never trust email requesting you to do anything involving linking to a website, sending money, etc. This could have all been resolved by someone calling and asking if they should really pay this $8 million "invoice" with an irreversible wire transfer.

I've done the accounting for a $2 million/yr company and I think I can answer that. When you pay your home bills you probably only have one or two dozen every month. The company averaged about 150 bills a month. Roughly half were recurring, half were one-time purchases and reimbursements.

It's *very* easy to slip a fraudulent bill into the one-time purchases category. I was fairly paranoid and would take the extra 10 min to 1 hour to track someone in the company down and ask them if a bill was legit, even if it meant staying late to finish my other work. So I like to think I didn't fall for any fake ones, but I honestly don't know. Immediately after I was promoted and someone else took over the accounting, my replacement fell for a fake magazine subscription bill made out to look like a renewal invoice. (Yes, getting phishing attempts by postal mail is common if you run a company.) And this was before it became common for invoices to be sent by email - where you can make a perfect digital duplicate of invoices that a legit company would use.

When you're put into a position where you must pay 100% of legit bills, but also have to try to avoid 100% of fraudulent bills, it's inevitable that some fakes will slip through. Some of the other responses denigrate people who fall for these scams. Unless you go through your spam folder every day and manually check every spam mail to make sure nothing legit has been misclassified, you don't know what you're talking about. I used to think those "attempted delivery of your package failed" and "here are the sales projections you requested" malware emails were stupid and easy to avoid. Until I got support calls from people who fell for them - a guy whose job at the company was tracking shipments and receiving deliveries, and a woman whose job was to collect and summarize sales projections from her marketing staff. That's when I realized these malware emails weren't "obvious and transparent". My job profile simply did not fit that of the intended target.

The problem isn't stupid people falling for this type of scam. The "problem" is the purchaser of an item and the payer for that item being different people, so there's no direct and immediate feedback available to confirm that a bill is legit. All those expense forms, reimbursement forms, and requisition forms that people always complain about having to fill out are attempts to remedy this problem.

Comment Human directions are more intuitive (Score 1) 156

There's not much difference between my self-plotted route and the GPS route on when the roads are laid down in a grid. But a city nearby where I live has lots of curvy and bendy roads. When I plot a route on my own using a map, I tend to use intuitive directions - take a road until I'd pass the destination, turn, take the second road until I'd pass the destination, turn, take the third road until I'd pass the destination, etc. Basically, unravel the twisty roads into a quasi-grid, and plot a route along that grid. When I let the GPS plot the route, it comes up with seemingly-crazy directions where I change to a parallel road halfway to the destination for no reason than because it shaves 0.1 miles off the distance.

A similar thing happens with subway maps. At first subways tried using geographically accurate maps. But they soon found that subway riders had trouble learning the stops and when to get off. So they simplified the maps by straightening out a lot of the kinks and curves. The result is no longer geographically accurate, but is a lot easier for people to remember.

Comment Not this again (Score 2) 319

I remember my teacher mentioning the controversy over map projections when I was in elementary school in the 1970s.

The problem isn't the map projections. The problem is people's insistence on believing there is always one and only one best solution. There isn't. Different map projections are best for different applications. I see the same flawed reasoning all the time when people ask me for help buying a computer - "What's the best laptop?" There isn't a single best laptop. There's a best laptop for you, there's a best laptop for me, there's a best laptop for Fred in accounting. But they are all probably different laptops. You have to prioritize what's important for what you want to do, then pick the best solution based on those priorities.

The same thing happens with election systems. Turns out all methods of voting are flawed in some way.

Comment Inflammatory headline (Score 5, Insightful) 379

If you read the actual report (figure 2.3, Changes in happiness from 2005-2007 to 2014-2016), you see that pretty much every first world nation except Germany and South Korea, and Norway and Switzerland (barely - within the confidence interval) have gone down in happiness, not just the U.S. The U.S. isn't even the first world nation with the biggest drop (Italy is, with Spain close behind).

A more fitting headline would've been "Happiness is on the wane in developed nations. Which might actually help explain the rise of nationalism in recent elections.

Comment Just disable the update service (Score 1) 320

Tap the Windows key, search for "services". Start the Services Desktop app. Scroll down to "Windows Update" and double-click it. Set it to disabled, and stop it if it's currently running. If you're paranoid, you can disable BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer Service) as well.

I had to do this on a computer running security camera software (very inconvenient if it reboots in the middle of a night due to an update). But you can do this if you just want to be in control of when your computer updates (I had to do it on my gaming laptop as well because Win 10 keeps trying to install newer generic Intel video drivers which are incompatible with Nvidia switchable graphics). Just repeat the process and temporarily enable the update service when you're ready to update.

Comment That's not really relevant (Score 1) 164

If you don't definitively know what the right answer is, then the best thing to do is to try all possible answers. Some communities ban Airbnb, some communities allow it. Some states ban it, some allow it. Give it a decade or so, then look to see which solution seems to be working best. Everyone has an opinion about Airbnb, but without evidence to back it up it's just a WAG (wild-ass guess). The process we're going through now is the evidence-collecting phase of the market at work - to filter out what doesn't work and allow what works to rise to the top. Unforeseen problems which crop up are also addressed the same way. Some different states will try different legislation to try to address those problems, and some may simply leave it alone to see if the problem goes away on its own (market corrects it naturally). Though this could lead to this process taking longer than about a decade.

Implementing these things at the state or local level is fine so long as other states and communities try different things. What you need to be wary about is ideology-based legislation forcing something to be implemented on a national level without having first gone through this vetting process. e.g. Obamacare - it should've been implemented in a few states first to see how well it worked. Then either it worked and there would've been little debate about implementing it nationally because you would've had objective numeric data showing states which implemented it had lower overall health care costs than those which didn't. Or you'd have objective numeric data showing that it didn't reduce costs or actually made it higher, and it could be rejected nationally. But because it was implemented based on ideology and the assumption that what worked in other countries piggy-backing off medical advancements made (and paid for) in the U.S. would work in the U.S., we're stuck in an endless debate about its efficacy with no clear answer.

Like taking a test in school, getting the right answer is not the point. It's learning the process you use to arrive at the answer which is important. If you make a wild guess and happen to get the right answer, you still haven't learned anything.

Comment Curious why New Zealanders buy so much Apple stuff (Score 4, Interesting) 447

New Zealand has a population of 4.471 million. $4.2 billion / 4.471 million = $939 per capita spent on Apple products.

China has a population of 1.357 billion. Apple's annual revenue in China was $48.5 billion, or $36 per capita.

Europe has a population of 743 million. Apple's Europe revenue was $49.95 billion. Or $67 per capita.

Japan has a population of 127 million. Apple's Japan revenue was $16.92 billion. or $133 per capita.

The U.S. has a population of 319 million. Apple's revenue in the Americas was $86.62 billion. Even if you attribute 100% of that to the U.S., that only works out to $272 per capita.

So either New Zealanders absolutely love buying Apple products by nearly an order of magnitude more than the rest of the developed world, or the $4.2 billion figure is somehow exaggerated.

Comment Re:About time! (Score 4, Insightful) 266

The problem isn't space. The problem is people unwilling to pay extra for extra space. The small percentage of the population which falls outside size norms want to pass laws requiring that they be given enough space at the same price as everyone else. As a result, just like the ADA individuals who got UC Berkeley's online course videos pulled off the web, larger people are going to get lower priced seats for regular-sized and smaller people eliminated.

Most airlines now have an economy+ section, with bigger seat pitch and sometimes wider seats. It only costs about 10%-20% more than a regular seat, so you're not stuck paying business class fares. I'm sorry you'll have to pay a bit more than me to fly, but what gives you the right to deny a smaller person lower prices for a smaller seat?

Legislation requiring slightly larger seats and slightly higher prices (economy+) be available on all flights is fine. Legislation outlawing "smaller" seats which fit the vast majority of passengers is stupid.

Comment Makes sense (Score 4, Interesting) 167

Einstein's theory of relativity tells us that time and space are the same thing (your perception of the two skews with your relative velocity, which causes all of relativity's time dilation effects). So I would expect there to be a time-corollary of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Just as extremely precise measurements of position lead to poor measurements of momentum, extremely precise measurements of time should result in poor measurements of... something else.

Comment NASA already tried that (Score 4, Interesting) 179

Following the loss of Mars Observer ($813 million), NASA adopted a new low-cost philosophy of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" Mars missions. Mars Pathfinder was the first FBC mission and was a resounding success. Mars Climate Orbiter was then sent to Mars with a launch rocket cost of just $91.7 million, for a total mission cost of $327.6 million. This was the mission that was lost due to a English vs. metric mixup. The problem would've been caught on the ground in preliminary testing, but that testing had been eliminated as a cost-saving measure. A month later, Mars Polar Lander was lost due to (we think) the descent software misidentifying vibrations from the deployment of the landing legs as contact with the ground, cutting off the descent engine about 40 meters above the ground.

NASA subsequently abandoned the low-cost philosophy. Better to lose an expensive mission due to bad luck, than to lose a bunch of cheap missions due to dumb mistakes that would've been caught if we'd paid for some simple but thorough testing.

Comment All hail Siskel and Ebert (Score 1) 97

They gave thumbs up/down ratings for movies, instead of ratings out of 4 or 5 stars (or A-F) like everyone else

One of the reasons why I think thumbs up/down works better than 5 stars is that everyone has a different idea of what 2, 3, and 4 stars should mean, and tend to skew towards 4 or even 4.5 stars as a midpoint ("average" product) instead of 3 as you'd expect from the scale's range. e.g. Amazon's 5 star system sounds like a really effective tool at first glance, until you learn that the average rating for all products is 4.47 stars. (4.36 for the 70% which are non-incentivized + 4.74 for the 30% which are incentivized = 4.47)

Most rating systems have run across this same problem. Some attempt to correct for it by normalizing (IMDB does this) to try to stretch the votes which are clumped up at the high end of the scale. But this creates other problems as some people submitting new ratings base it on the normalized scale, while others base it on their personal scale (skewed high).

With no clear consensus on what exactly the middle grades/ratings actually mean, it makes sense to just simplify the scale and make it binary.

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