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Comment Re:Yes, but... (Score 2) 151

The problem with software development is that unless you've done that exact same task before, you really have no idea what's involved. And if you HAD done that exact task before, you wouldn't need to be doing it again, as you could re-use most of your previous work. Unlike with, say, constructing a building, once software is well-built once, it doesn't have to be built a second time, at least within the same company, or if its open source.

Management is also to blame on occasion. I put together a schedule for a videogame project for a major publisher, and the schedule was rejected, saying it wasn't detailed enough. They wanted finer-grained breakdowns of tasks, so instead of one to two week tasks, they wanted one or two day tasks. The only problem: the game wasn't even designed yet - only a rough idea of the genre and licensed property we were using. So, someone (not me, thankfully) dutifully put together a bullshit schedule with fine-grained bullshit tasks, and as the due dates arrived, we simply checked off those tasks in our official project management software.

In the meantime, we had our own spreadsheet with our real tasks and timelines that we used internally, although we tried to match up major milestones as best we could. Since it was a hard deadline, we finished the core game systems as soon as possible, ruthlessly cut extraneous features, and still delivered on time. I'm sure the publisher's producers still think it was their detailed scheduling that kept everything on track.

Comment Re:Leftists are learning about pushing people too (Score 1) 246

One prominent example is minimum wage regulations. While the intent behind these may have been good, what they've ended up becoming are huge burdens to businesses that are already on the brink. It's not economically viable for a business to pay somebody far more than the value they're providing. What is the end result? Fewer jobs, and a lot more focus on automating away low-end jobs. This actually leaves people worse off than they were before the minimum wage regulations were put into place!

That's a very naïve view of reality. For every business that's on the brink, there are hundreds that are doing well, and many that are turning record profits. A business that cannot afford to pay its employees a living wage is almost certainly doomed anyway, so allowing it to pay a less than a living wage is just delaying the inevitable slightly. The business will fail. Let it fail.

Keeping a business on life support by letting it pay a subminimum wage doesn't help anyone in the long term, and doesn't help very many people even in the short term. But allowing businesses to pay a subminimum wage does hurt people who work for all those other companies that actually are profitable, because given the opportunity to pay their employees less, they will do so.

More to the point, if that is the only business providing jobs in a particular community, then that community is doomed. Keeping the business alive a little longer by depressing wages just encourages people to stay in the doomed community and make less and less money, thus making them less and less able to afford to move to a community that isn't doomed. So continuing to pay those employees a wage actually ends up hurting those employees more than it helps, at least in the aggregate, though the individual employees might not believe it at the time.

Comment Re:slashdotters are happy (Score 1) 179

I don't think that's true at all. Most of the pro-life voters I've known are people who genuinely care about protecting the unborn. Most of the pro-life politicians at least appear to be using the abortion issue as a means to get elected (though I suppose it is also possible that they're genuine but clueless). The number of pro-life folks who are actually misogynists is probably fairly small, though I'm sure that they do exist.

Comment Re:It's true (Score 1) 257

When the chip returns, we have to test it and make sure it is correct before we make any last minute changes. So there is a 72 hour bring-up period, most of us work 18 hour shifts and the campus is open around the clock with three meals served a day.

When you're talking about a short-term crunch period, sometimes those really are unavoidable, because of events that could not have been predicted ahead of time. When that happens, what matters is that the period be A. short, B. bounded, and C. rewarded with extra vacation to balance out the crunch. If an employer does that, it isn't a big deal. When an employer drives people to work 18 hours a day all year around, though, that's a much bigger deal.

That said, to some degree, what you're describing is still a failure of management. The final deadline might not be movable, but the milestones on the way to that deadline are movable, and the number of employees you throw at the problem is also adjustable. There are two ways to trivially fix the problem in your case:

  • Move the deadline for the design earlier. This approach will initially mean slightly longer hours during the entire project, but over the long term, will make it worth hiring one or two extra employees to reduce the workload. By doing that, you'll have an entire week or even two weeks at the end of the process for the bring-up period instead of 72 hours.
  • Hire contractors to offload most of the testing during surge periods. I guarantee you can find people who will do short-term contracts for a week if you throw the right amount of money in their direction, and I guarantee there are plenty of other companies that need testers only part-time. Work with those other companies and build up a contractor talent pool. Spend two days preparing for the tests, then three days doing the tests. Make a larger quantity of engineering test samples so that you can parallelize the tests better, and use three times as many people during that week so that everybody works sane hours.

This isn't rocket science. Either approach above would make those crunches completely unnecessary, and the combination would do so in a way that isn't even particularly painful for the company or the employees. However, both approaches require management to A. acknowledge that there's a problem, and B. care enough to fix it.

Comment Re: Cry me a river (Score 2) 257

He wanted the growth, the stock options... and he wasn't cut-out for the demands:

Yes and no. Most startups have the opportunities for growth, stock options that could become valuable, etc., though you always have a decent chance of not getting anything from them other than more work. But there's definitely a point beyond which that extra work qualifies as worker abuse. This is why we need stronger laws on employee work hours.

Don't get me wrong; I'm okay with people hiring "exempt employees" with the understanding that their work hours will vary throughout the year, depending on what is happening. Where that scheme goes off the rails is when that turns into an expectation that you'll work 50+ hours every week—something that is fundamentally unsafe from a psychological perspective, causing serious harm to workers when done over a prolonged period. And from what I've read, Uber is one of "those companies".

Make no mistake, that culture is entirely the fault of Uber's management. Young people tend to think they're invincible, so without managers telling them to do otherwise, they will work themselves into the ground—sometimes literally. They think that by working ridiculous hours, they'll get ahead of their coworkers, and when enough people do that, others start to believe that long hours are required; thus, a work culture forms around that expectation.

What those young people don't realize is that those longer hours invariably lead to bad decision-making and lower quality output. Statistically, for every hour above about thirty hours, productivity falls off, and by about 50 hours or so, productivity actually goes negative; for every hour worked beyond that limit, you end up doing more than an hour of extra work to fix the additional screw-ups caused by the hour of extra work. For this reason, it is crucial for every tech business to have competent managers who strongly encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Managers who do not do this—managers who prioritize short-term gains over worker health—invariably lead to worker burnout, long-term low productivity, and yes, suicides.

Unfortunately, between Uber and video game companies, it is pretty clear that self-regulation by industry isn't working, and that government needs to step in. Exempt shouldn't mean "we own your life". It should mean "40 hours average", i.e. the same as non-exempt workers, but allowing for seasonal variation. It should be illegal for exempt workers to spend more than an average of 40 hours per week spread across a one-year period. Huge fines are quite literally the only thing that companies like Uber will understand.

Comment Re:slashdotters are happy (Score 1) 179

No, actually it's the solution to the abortion false dichotomy. And this isn't by any means the first story on the subject. A team in Japan did early animal testing in an artificial womb at least a decade back. I know this because I remember having a conversation about funding the development of this technology as a way for anti-abortion folks to put their money where their mouths are while on a church choir trip in 2008.

The fact of the matter is that abortion is worse than a wedge issue. It's a false dichotomy. Why would anyone in their right minds not want both a right to life for the fetus and a right to choose for the mother? The nature of birth involves trading the rights of one person for those of another, and that's the only thing that makes the abortion issue challenging for people to navigate. The mere existence of artificial womb technology is a game-changer.

If Republicans were actually serious about ending abortion, they would have jumped on this a decade back, and would have insisted on pouring funding into making this technology viable. We'd see research dollars being poured into that instead of into missile shields and random weapons research, and this technology would be fully viable by now, because with enough people working on it, the advances would happen faster. But they haven't done this, because they would lose most of their seats if abortion actually became illegal in a way that wouldn't get undone in a future power shift.

A truly intelligent, competent candidate for office, then, should be pointing this out, and should be running on a campaign of making artificial wombs available soon, and then making abortion illegal, requiring patients to instead get outpatient transfer surgery to move the fetus to an artificial womb. And the government should massively subsidize the transfer and pay for the incubation in cases where the woman gives up a fetus for adoption in utero so that no one chooses a back alley abortion over saving a life. And the government should require insurance companies to cover the transfer and incubation in cases where the life of the mother or fetus would be in jeopardy if a pregnancy continued, so that women with high-risk pregnancies can keep their kids without risking their own lives and the lives of their kids.

The mind-boggling thing about this, at least in my mind, is that our politicians still haven't thought of it. This should have been obvious to any competent leader at least ten years ago when the first study came out. Arguably, it should have been obvious earlier than that. I've been advocating this as a solution to the abortion debate for so long that I can no longer even remember when I started advocating it. If I ever run for office, I swear I'll run with the promise of being pro-life and pro-choice—no more false dichotomies. The American people deserve at least that much competence from their politicians.

Comment Re:Wonder how it compares to Airlander (Score 1) 117

That accident sure was a black eye for them... but the design is now better because of it. Also, gotta love having an aircraft whose crashes are in slow motion ;) "Coming soon on World's Least Dramatic Air Crashes!"

I imagine for the pilot it was sort of like when you're driving down a slope on ice and you lose traction, and you end up skidding down the whole slope at a several kilometers per hour: First, alarm and futile attempts to regain control, followed by acceptance, then "Okay, you can stop any time now...."

Comment Re:Going Howard Hughes... (Score 3, Informative) 117

Airships are not party balloons; they don't "pop" when you make a hole in them. They have low overpressure and a huge volume to surface area, so a "bullethole" is just a slow leak; it's not even a reason to land. A helicopter is far more vulnerable to small arms fire than a helium airship.

As for what it buys over a helicopter, show me a helicopter that can move 50-500 tonnes payload at a per-kilogram rate cheaper than a freight truck while flying halfway around the world without refueling. Because that's what people are looking to build with this new generation of airships. Even Airlander 10, which is just a commercial prototype for the Airlander 50, carries more payload than the largest helicopter used by the US military, the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion.

Comment Re:Going Howard Hughes... (Score 3, Interesting) 117

A common usecase for large airships is remote mining operations. They need big, heavy pieces of equipment brought into places without roads. Currently, the first step is to build a road - which is expensive and environmentally destructive. An airship needs only a clearing - and the "skycrane" variants don't even need that.

Another advantage is that it's much easier to design them to carry "bulky" cargoes than airplanes. Again, especially "skycrane" designs where the cargo hangs beneath.

Comment Re:Wonder how it compares to Airlander (Score 2) 117

Given the fact that it's rigid, and given the size of Hangar Two and the fact that the frame is said to take up much of the hangar, it's probably much larger than Airlander 10.

Probably also doesn't look like a giant rear end ;) Even if it's a lifting body, the fact that it's a rigid airship (from the description) means that they can shape it however they want. So probably something like a flattened teardrop, if they go for the hybrid (lifting body) approach. Which generally seems pretty popular these days, for good reason (lots of extra lift at little cost, higher top speeds because you don't have to have as large of a cross section for a given cargo, etc). But of course there's nothing here to suggest whether it's actually a hybrid.

Comment Re:Money to burn I guess (Score 2) 117

It's easier to hate on?

I'm wondering what the "innovation" is. Because I'm sure that he's not doing this without some angle, something unusual that he's doing with this one vs. other airships. Some sort of wow factor.

Sergei, blow me away with something totally crazy. Like make its skin transparent, fill it with heliox and have people live inside the envelope farming, like an Earth prototype of a Venus colony ;)

But honestly, my expectations are that it's a generic freight carrier, and that the twist would be that it's a rigid lifting body. Maybe if we're really lucky, solar-powered too.

Comment Re:Going Howard Hughes... (Score 4, Interesting) 117

I personally find it very exciting. I knew that Alphabet had rented the Moffett Field hangars from NASA and were rennovating them. But their official stated purpose for doing so was to store a number of company planes. This is the exciting part:

Engineers have constructed a metal skeleton of the craft, and it fills up much of the enormous hangar.

So first off:

1) It's a rigid airship. Which used to be common but is now rare. Zeppelin NT is a semirigid, with a trilobate truss inside, but there's not many other examples. Rigids are favored when you're building something very large, as they reduce the stress on the skin.

2) It's huge. Hangar 2 is 52,1 meters high, 90,5 and 327,7m long.

I hope it's a lifting body! If I'm not mistaken it'd be the world's first rigid lifting body airship (correct me if I'm wrong!). Either way it's yet another sign that we're - at least temporarily - entering a new lighter-than-air renaissance. Who knows whether it will last, but it's great to see so many companies giving it another shot, making use of modern technology and design. Because there have been some huge improvements since the old Akron / Macon days. Also wonder about the fuel. Something like Blau gas, so it's buoyancy-neutral as it burns?

Of course, not everything in the article is exciting or new...

He went on to describe a prototype he was considering of a helium-based craft that appeared to breathe. "And so the way that works is that the helium in the main envelope is taken and stored in bags inside the airship at a slightly higher pressure," he said. "As you do that, air is taken in from the outside into essentially like lungs that are attached in the side of the vehicle. So the analogy of breathing is a good one. And the overall lift of the vehicle is equal to the weight of the air that is being displaced by the helium. And as you change that, you can control the amount of buoyancy that the vehicle has."

Um... yes, that's how lift cells work.... you either use them or you use ballonets, your choice... there's a couple other possibilities, like high overpressure superpressure balloons, or compressors + gas tanks, but the former doesn't scale, and the latter generally comes with too much mass and cost penalties with too poor responsiveness.

BTW, for those not familiar with the Macon and the Akron, I definitely recommend reading about them. They were literal flying aircraft carriers. You know how a landing jet on an aircraft carrier catches a cable with a hook? They did that too, but in the other direction - they caught a "trapeze" on their topside. They were then raised into the hangar, which was designed for five airplanes.

They unfortunately weren't long in service. Both of their losses could have been prevented with any combination of better weather prediction, computer controls, and better lift control. The Macon's loss was also stupid in that they were flying with unrepaired structural damage, out doing fleet maneuvers.

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