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Comment Re:As someone with a masters in this -exact field- (Score 1) 279

If you are a true master, you should be able to explain concepts in a way that even a child can understand

This is, in a word, horse pucky. It's the same reasoning my niece uses to justify her anti-vaxxer beliefs: the quacks and charlatans she listens to are more credible than epidemiologists and immunologists because they're easier to understand. This is the real-life equivalent of the joke about searching for the $20 bill under the street light because where you actually lost it is inconveniently dark.

If it were true that a child could understand anything, there wouldn't be a need for education. You'd just find a "true expert" to explain, say, fluid dynamics to a random bunch of people off the street and then set those randos to work designing aircraft. Or cryptographic systems.

There's an unfortunate cultural trend to devalue anything that requires mental effort and dedication to understand as elitist bullshit. This is a dangerous development, especially when combined with our national vanity: ever since the Moon landing we see technological and scientific leadership as a birthright. It's not. It's something we have to earn, and continue earning every day by dint of hard labor.

The humbling truth is that real understanding in many things requires trekking a long and arduous road. It's a near certainty that you don't actually understand General Relativity; crude analogies about balls and rubber sheets notwithstanding. General Relativity is like a mountain that looks easy to tackle from a great distance, but the fact is it takes years of toil before you can even grasp how arduous the foothills of Mount Einstein are.

Comment Re:Wind and Solar are Environmental Disasters (Score 1) 479

There are a few combined cycle GT power plants in the US (more in Europe), but the vast majority of gas turbines are used for cycling and summer/winter peak power. It is not cost efficient to use a recovery boiler in that type of service.

And in the US at least combined cycle GT plants have proved operationally difficult, with turndown and stability problems often requiring the use of duct burners to keep the boiler side stable (there goes the efficiency) and high forced outage rates on the boiler. I've seen a lot of large GT plants (50 - 150 MW) with space on the layout drawings for "future HRSG". That's where you park your truck.

sPh

Comment Re: Interstate commerce? (Score 1) 479

= = = http://www.powermag.com/ferc-b...
Throwing yet another twist into a long-running saga, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on April 27 blocked a pair of power purchase agreements (PPAs) that would have supported continued operation of FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant and several aging coal-fired plants belonging to FirstEnergy and AEP.

The Pubic Utilities Commission of Ohio approved the PPAs on March 31 over strident objections from ratepayer groups and rival generators. FirstEnergy and AEP say the PPAs are necessary to keep the plants operating, and that their closure would imperil reliability in the state. Consumer groups charge that the deals, which would have allowed the utilities’ distribution units to purchase power from the plants at guaranteed, above-market rates for eight years, amounted to corporate welfare.

On April 27, in a pair of rulings, FERC agreed with the groups challenging the PPAs, rescinding previous waivers it had issued to FirstEnergy and AEP allowing them to purchase power from their affiliate generators. Loss of the waivers effectively blocks the utilities from purchasing power under the PPAs until FERC has had a chance to review them.

“While it is true that Ohio ratepayers will continue to have a statutory right to choose one retail supplier over another, we conclude, based on the record, that [Ohio ratepayers] are nonetheless captive in that they have no choice as to payment of the non-bypassable generation-related charges incurred under the Affiliate PPA,” the FERC ruling said. “These non-bypassable charges present the ‘potential for the inappropriate transfer of benefits from [captive] customers to the shareholders of the franchised public utility,’ and, thus, could undermine the goal of the Commission’s affiliate restrictions.”= = =

You need to read up a bit on the FERC, federal primacy in interstate power markets, and how the bulk electric system works.

sPh

Comment Re:All about the fight (Score 1) 479

= = = http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...
WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.

The event — which provides a telling revelation for how quickly the post-election climate soured — serves as the prologue of Robert Draper’s much-discussed and heavily-reported new book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.”

According to Draper, the guest list that night (which was just over 15 people in total) included Republican Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Pete Sessions (Texas), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.), along with Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Ensign (Nev.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). The non-lawmakers present included Newt Gingrich, several years removed from his presidential campaign, and Frank Luntz, the long-time Republican wordsmith. Notably absent were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who, Draper writes, had an acrimonious relationship with Luntz.

For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” Draper quotes McCarthy as saying. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”= = =

Comment Re:All about the fight (Score 2) 479

= = = Often the "compromise" wanted is complete capitulation so the people who see themselves firmly on the "right" can appear "strong". = = =

Otherwise known as a "Mitch McConnell compromise". You give us everything we want, plus the transfer fee for the gaming license, and we get to go on TV and explain to our base that you capitulated.

sPh

Comment Re:Wind and Solar are Environmental Disasters (Score 3, Informative) 479

Gas turbine power plants are not exactly friendly to birds. I've walked across parking lots in the morning that looked like the dumpster at the rotisserie chicken place had been knocked over.

sPh

(insects are drawn to the warmth radiating from the exhaust stack wall. Birds dive after the insects, and if they dive through the exhaust, toasted bird)

Comment Re:He's missing the point. (Score 4, Insightful) 148

It would be nice if people could learn to think in terms of threats that fell somewhere between "safe to ignore" and "extinction level event". Or could distinguish between "extreme and expensive" responses and "effective" ones.

9/11 could have been prevented by simple, conservative and inexpensive countermeasures. After 9/11 politicians droned on about how "9/11 changed everything," but the cold sober fact was that it in fact changed nothing. It just showed that some of the things sensible people had already been telling us to do (like reinforcing cockpit doors or getting agencies to work together despite institutional rivalries) really did need to be done. Instead "9/11 changed everything" became the rallying cry for every pet scheme that had heretofore been correctly dismissed as too expensive, hare-brained, or just plain dumb.

Which doesn't change the fact that something needed to be done. Here's the lesson I think we should take into this infrastructure debate: we should take sensible and conservative steps to secure infrastructure against terrorism now, before events put foolish ones on the table.

Comment Re:Good but... (Score 1) 120

Or... what if anytime anyone called a residential number, a nickel was transferred from the caller's account to the callee's account.

That wouldn't stop anyone from making a call where an actual person is likely to be involved; the labor costs for a three minute conversation would swamp that. But it would discourage people from robocalling a hundred thousand people in order to turn up a handful of suckers.

And the public wouldn't have to pay a regulator to try to track down these boiler room operations.

Comment Re:Agrument in favor of modularity (Score 1) 87

I don't have to do anything. Even stored under ideal circumstances li-ion batteries lose capacity.

What matter is capacity relative to demand. In a phone like the Droid Maxx from a few years ago with plenty of surplus battery the phone will still be usable four years later. But something like a Samsung Galaxy S6 barely has enough battery to make it through the day when brand new and is pretty much unusable two years later even under ideal conditions.

Comment Re:There's a lot more iron much closer... (Score 4, Informative) 300

And there's some twenty million tons of gold dissolved in the Earth's oceans. Jules Verne made it the source of Captain Nemo's incredible wealth.

To put twenty million tons of gold in perspective, all the gold that has ever been mined by humans totals up to about 180 thousand tons. To put in another perspective: sure, it's gold, but at a concentration of thirteen billionths of a gram per liter of seawater it's worthless unless you have unlimited time and energy to extract it.

That's the problem with asteroid mining in general. Until the cost of changing an object's momentum goes down drastically it's not worth doing. If Pysche were a 1000 kg block of pure, refined platinum (market price: $34 million) you'd be hard-pressed to retrieve it and return it to Earth at a profit. Which is not to say asteroid mining is a bad idea; but first things first: you've got to reduce the price of interplanetary propulsion by a couple orders of magnitudes. One thing that never happens in a sci-fi asteroid mining scenario is the hero worrying about running out of gas. Propulsion in stories is always practically limitless and free of charge. Real propulsion will never be that good, but it could get good enough.

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