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Comment Re:You can buy it that way (T3), makes you unhappy (Score 1) 196

Indeed. An explanation I recently came up with for caps, is that they shouldn't actually be measured in "MB", but rather in "MB/s * s" = "bandwidth used * time it's used for". You're not buying bandwidth, you're renting it by the second*. That you just downloaded 1GB of data is irrelevant to your ISP, they'd charge you just as much for downloading a single byte one billion times. (ignoring overhead issues)

Yes, technically the units simplify to the same thing, but like torque and energy, just because the units are the same, doesn't mean the things being measured are actually conceptually the same.

* Well, except that with data caps, instead of paying for actual usage, you're paying for a giant block of far more usage than you're likely to need, so that you don't have to worry about exceeding that limit and being cut off or hit with ridiculous overage charges. Which is arguably a total racket, but for whatever reason there actually seem to be a lot of people who object to the idea of being charged for their actual usage.

Comment Re:Wot? (Score 1) 79

The *roofing* is indeed much cheaper, but don't forget the cost of labor. Even with solar the cost of installation often exceeds the cost of the panels themselves.

Besides, if you're looking at financing a new roof + solar installation, even if it ended up shaving off only 10% it would make things that much more attractive.

And I seem to recall that Solar City offers something like "pay nothing up front and less than your current electric bill" financing options for standard solar panels. If you could get a new roof out of the deal as well...

Comment Re:Wot? (Score 1) 79

True. However, solar panels are already sturdy and weather proof all on their own, and get used for leaky carport and pavilion roofs, they're simply not designed to interlock in a weathertight fashion. It certainly seems possible that you could add the ability to interlock the already-weatherproof solar panels more cheaply than you could put a weatherproof roof underneath them.

Basically you wouldn't be eliminating the cost of the panels, you'd be eliminating the cost of the roof underneath them. As for aesthetics, I imagine it would be relatively cheap to make a normal roof panel that *looked* enough like a solar panel for cosmetic purposes.

Comment Re:Using bandwidth (Score 1) 222

You are correct, the megabytes are not consumed. The bandwidth though (MB/s of possible transmission speed) certainly is - it's an instantaneous resource - in this second, there's only so many megabytes that can pass through a single network link (be it a cell tower, fiber a optic cable, or whatever). And used or not, that data-transmitting capacity will be forever gone after the second is over. You can't use yesterday's unused bandwidth to transfer data today.

Peer to peer file sharing is inapplicable - it's a wonderful technology to allow data transfer loads to be distributed across multiple network links instead of all being bottle-necked by the source's single uplink, but if all of your nodes (including the source) are connected to the same wi-fi access point, you won't see any benefit. (peer to peer *networking* is a completely different concept, and not related to the topic at hand)

I think the issue is being confused because we're dealing with coincidentally identical units. Consider the physics example of energy(Joules) and torque(Nm). Basically unrelated concepts, and yet both have the same fundamental units, 1 J = 1kg (m/s)^2 = 1 Nm, they're simply written differently to avoid accidental confusion.

Similarly, we have two different concepts:
Data quantity, measured in MB
bandwidth consumption, measured in (MB/s of transmission speed) * (number of seconds it's used). = (MB/s)*s = MB

When a network provider charges you for 1000MB/s*s they are NOT charging you for the data you download, they're renting you the bandwidth you're using: Use 10MB/s of bandwidth for 100 seconds, and you've consumed 1000MB/s*s of bandwidth. That you've downloaded 1000MB of data is irrelevant to them, they'd charge you the same amount if you had consumed the bandwidth just sending a single byte back and forth a billion times.

As an alternative, they could charge you by the minute, just as they do with voice calls. But that would mean that if the network was congested, so that you were only getting 1MB/s, then it would cost you 10x as much to download the same file, because it would take 10x as long. That would certainly discourage using the network when it's congested, but I really doubt many customers would be happy with that arrangement.

Comment Re:Makes more sense (Score 1) 222

Not really - because the reality is that demand *is* elastic, and if you build out the network to provide 10x the bandwidth, you're going to have to charge 10x as much for access to support it. If your demand truly is inelasitic - real-time control systems, high-speed stock-trading, etc, then those costs are worth it and you buy dedicated access, but for most people they'd much rather pay 1/10th the price and just avoid video-streaming and other bandwidth-intensive uses during peak hours.

You're free to do the same - guaranteed minimum bandwidths are generally listed in the fine print of your contract - if your demand is truly inelastic, then go find the package with the guaranteed minimum bandwidth you need, and pay the huge premium to get it. That's is *literally* what inelastic demand means - that no matter how much you charge, customers will buy roughly the same amount.

Beyond that, it's all about how exactly you sell and shape your bandwidth usage. I see three basic billing options:
1) Dedicated bandwidth - as I pointed out above, that can get *really* expensive, for something most people aren't using most of the time.
2) Usage billing - basically how other utilities operate: you pay a fixed connection fee plus a per-MB charge, possibly with a premium for on-peak usage and/or a discounted rate for the lowest demand periods
3) Access billing - you pay a fixed amount to be able to use a portion of whatever bandwidth happens to be available at the moment. Tiered pricing could come in the form of maximum bandwidth limits, and/or congestion priority (e.g. pay 3x as much, get 3x the bandwidth of normal customers during peak hours), but there isn't really any convenient way to discourage on-peak consumption with this model.

And then there's caps, which are sort of the bastard offspring of usage billing - you buy far more usage than you plan to ever actually use, or expect to occasionally be hit with throttling, overage fees, or cuttoffs. Traffic-shaping is still possible by over/under-counting data during on/off-peak hours, but the effects are likely to be muted since most people will have a substantial amount of "head room" in their plan.

Personally, I'd like to see caps die a fiery death, but assuming traffic shaping is a desirable thing, that basically means paying by the megabyte instead

Comment Re:Makes more sense (Score 1) 222

No, but you do *occupy* bandwidth.

Actually, it's rather akin to a small water company drawing from a large river - there's very little per-gallon cost to the water company, more total water delivery capacity available than there is demand, and the infrastructure requires constant maintenance regardless of usage level, and has to be built large enough to at least take a fair stab at satisfying peak demand. One option is certainly to simply charge a flat fee for water access, and that works fine if everyone is considerate, but if you have a few folks that want to water their rice fields 24/7 you have a problem - they're consuming most of your delivery capacity, and that's especially a problem during peak usage hours. One of the simplest methods to discourage such abuse is to charge by the gallon - it's not really reflective of actual cost breakdowns, but it's simple and does make the people getting the most use out of the infrastructure pay a proportional amount toward its maintenance and expansion, which is at least superficially fair (and we primates have a concept of fairness written into our genes)

If you want to get more sophisticated you can charge more per gallon during peak hours, encouraging your heavy users to temporarily reduce their consumption, but that tends to annoy the vast majority - peak hours are peak for a reason, those are the optimal hours for consumption. Alternately you could throttle everyone equally during peak demand, which seems reasonable on the face of it, but may engender resentment among customers, especially if charging a flat rate: "why am I paying as much for my low-pressure evening shower as that guy is to flood his fields with a firehose most of the day?", and perhaps more significantly among the shareholders: "why are we charging the guy using 1/10th of our total capacity the same amount as the guy using only 1/10,000th?"

Now, obviously the guy flooding his field is happy with the flat rate, but everyone else would probably be happier if he paid 10% of the maintenance costs, in line with his usage, and they all got a 10% discount on their bill. And that's a problem. Assuming you start with two companies with similar customer bases, overhead, and profit margins, FlatCo charging a flat rate, while UsageCo switches to this newfangled usage-based billing, how do you suppose the market is going to respond? The normal customers will all flock to UsageCo, and the unprofitable heavy users will flock to FlatCo, requiring them to increase their flat rate until it's basically the same as the heavy users would pay, on average, at UsageCo - after all they still have to pay the same maintenance costs. At which point all the below-average heavy users will be better off switching to UsageCo as well. And the cycle will continue until FlatCo is driven out of business.

Comment Using bandwidth (Score 4, Insightful) 222

Um, the term "use" certainly applies in a relatively normal fashion - whatever data distribution hub I'm connected to has a finite bandwidth, and every MB/s I'm using is a MB/s no one else can use. Unlike much infrastructure, usage level doesn't really increase the rate of wear and tear, but you still have a finite resource to allocate at any given moment.

Comment Re:Wot? (Score 1) 79

Perhaps the "solar shingle" roof would be cheaper than a similar-quality roof plus solar panels? I don't know if that's the case, but I can certainly imagine it being so eventually.

As one example - imagine "solar shingles" designed with the same basic form-factor as standard pro-panel sheets - when you're putting on a new roof you just use photo-panel instead of pro-panel wherever you have good solar exposure, with wiring safely sandwiched between the panel and roof deck.

Comment Re:With all due respect to Mr. Hawking and us... (Score 2) 280

Not quite. FTL implies the *potential* for time travel - not the inevitability of it. Fly to Andromeda and back in an afternoon, and there will be no time travel involved, you have to jump through extra hoops to accomplish that.

And you're also assuming Relativity is *perfect*. Yes, we have a *lot* of data backing it up, but we had a *lot* of data backing up Newtonian mechanics too, before minor anomalies in extreme situations proved it was flawed, openin the door for GR to replace it. And frankly, we already have really huge anomalies in GR, in the form of the "here there be dragons" kludges of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

Comment Re:With all due respect to Mr. Hawking and us... (Score 1) 280

Maybe not, but we hardly *know* that. Physics is an iterative approximation to reality, not divine truth.

We know our current understanding of physics is imperfect - current QM and GR theories have some fundamental incompatibilities. And we know even small imperfections can contain vast new fields of science - all of QM grew out of some minor unexplained oddities in the behavior of light.

We have also already invented several different theoretical FTL techniques that are completely consistent with our current theories of physics. They rely on exotic matter or energy configurations that might not exist (nor be possible to create), but as yet that's a complete unknown. And we may eventually dream up techniques that don't require such exotics.

Comment Re:With all due respect to Mr. Hawking and us... (Score 1) 280

You're making several big assumptions:
1) that FTL would be a far more advanced technology than what we have, rather than a the product of a fundamentally alien physics model,
2) that FTL would necessarily be accompanied by similar advances in energy and resource acquisition
3) that FTL exists and is relevant at all - plenty of ways to cross between stars without it. Just because they won't get here for decades or millenia doesn't mean they couldn't be a huge problem for humanity when they do.
4) that they don't care about naturally habitable planets (even a team of anthropologists or biologists from a far more advanced civilization might be a huge problem for human civilization)
5) that control of our solar system would be the point. A xenophobic civilization might simply want to wipe us out as potential threats or ideological abominations, which would be much easier than conquest. for example a single self-replicating nanobot would be relatively easy to accelerate to a substantial fraction of lightspeed, and probably quite capable of exterminating us in any number of ways shortly after it arrived.

And historically, any squirrel could tell you that humans were a great danger to their nuts.

Comment Re:You'd think someone as smart as Hawking ... (Score 4, Informative) 280

I seem to recall hearing that, if an identical society to our own were currently orbitting Alpha Centauri, our current radio telescopes would probably be able to detect any high-power military radar sweeps that pass their horizon in our direction, but not much else. So for now at least it seems unlikely that we'll be able to detect planetary "radio leakage", regardless of vertical attenuation.

And the radar point raises another good one: vertical attenuation probably wouldn't make a huge amount of difference for detection. Even if they somehow transmitted a signal perfectly horizontally, it would still head into space as the planet's surface curved away from it, and transmission frequencies would almost certainly be tuned to the most transparent bands in the atmosphere, so atmospheric attenuation probably wouldn't make a huge difference. We'd only get relatively brief, regular bursts of signal as the the transmitter's horizon aligned with Earth each day, but for detection that's all you need.

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