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Comment My problem with GMOs (Score 2) 470

My problem with GMOs is not that the scary stuff that Greenpeace peddles, but the business practices of companies like Monsanto. I also have a problem with the supposedly "pro-science" folks who are anti-GMO labeling on the basis that scare-mongering will keep people from buying GMO-labeled products. I have a Ph.D. in a scientific field and one my absolute most deeply held beliefs is that nothing is more anti-science than withholding information. Don't like what people do with that information? Tough. It's your responsibility as a scientist or pro-science person to educate your audience. Telling people they've got it wrong and don't worry, they should just trust you, and no, we're not going to have a conversation about this is flat out anti-science, period, end of story. If you want people to be OK with GMOs, fine, I agree with you, but it do your job as a scientist, give people complete information, and help them understand the issue instead of making them feel like they're too stupid to understand it.

By the way, one of my other deeply held beliefs is that if you are a scientist and you cannot explain your field to a layperson in a way that they can understand, you probably don't understand your own field very well. In other words, if your excuse is that people are too uneducated to understand, then I think you need to reassess how you're explaining things. You're the educated person, the onus is on you to share your knowledge. If you can't do that, shut up.

Comment Can anyone explain the "user-experience advantage" (Score 3, Informative) 157

What is this supposed "user-experience advantage" of iMessage? I sure can't figure it out. The first thing I do when my employer gives me a new iPhone is turn off iMessage, because it has caused me plenty of trouble and I have never knowingly seen one single solitary benefit from it.

I do a lot of international travel, keeping data roaming turned off, and knew nothing of iMessage when I got my first iPhone. It took me forever to figure out why text messages to and from certain people always seemed to be delayed. One day I turned on international data roaming to check for an urgent work email and instantly a slew of old text messages came through, followed by an alert from my carrier that I'd just spent 25 euros in roaming fees. I eventually figured out it was all down to iMessage, and the people whose texts were delayed were all iPhone users, so oddly enough it was Apple's "user-experience advantage" that cost me 25 euros and blocked messages to other iPhone users while allowing messages to non-iPhone users to pass unmolested....

Comment Don't even get me started (Score 4, Interesting) 267

My employer insists on giving me an iPhone, but prohibits iTunes on my company-issue laptop because it's such shit. Even if I wanted it on my home computer, I run Linux so it isn't even an option. And since it's a relatively new device, Apple actively breaks whatever free software works even semi-well with it. Company policy also prohibits me from using iCloud, so I can't add music through iTunes Music, I can't delete iTunes Music, I can't even seem to delete the stupid U2 album they foisted upon me. That means certain apps that can normally play music for me, can't play music, because Apple only allows them to play music via iTunes Music.

I will never spend my own money on an iPhone. The only reason I have one is because I'm paid to have it.

Unfortunately, my wife prefers Apple's music players, and we're both using Linux now. Fortunately, she prefers the ones they don't make anymore, so Linux software actually works pretty well with them. We actually just paid 45 euros to get her old Nano repaired, and we're about to get her chunky old iPod with a clickwheel repaired. It's amazing how much easier and more pleasant it is to use these old devices than it is my iPhone 5....

Comment Re:How damage resistant is it? (Score 2) 135

"there's no such thing as a glass-based solar cell"

Fucking what? Glass is silicon. Most solar cells are silicon. Which dimension did you pop in from, sonny?

Glass is silicon? Really? You must think water is hydrogen, too, then.

Let me correct you: Glass is (mostly) silicon dioxide. Silicon and silicon dioxide are not the same thing -- they are fundamentally different compounds with fundamentally different physical properties. Just like water is partly composed of hydrogen atoms, but water and hydrogen are fundamentally different compounds. If you had ever actually seen silicon before there's no way you would mistake it for glass.

Comment Re:How damage resistant is it? (Score 1) 135

You must have missed this, then:

The final ultra-thin, flexible solar cells, including substrate and overcoating, are just one-fiftieth of the thickness of a human hair and one-thousandth of the thickness of equivalent cells on glass substrates — about two micrometers thick — yet they convert sunlight into electricity just as efficiently as their glass-based counterparts.

I'll ignore the statement about "glass-based counterparts" -- there's no such thing as a glass-based solar cell -- and assume they mean "silicon-based counterparts," as is rather clear from the article. Pedantry aside, if the snippet you quote is true then they've completely failed to report the real story, which is that they not only have set an efficiency record for organic solar cells, but beat the old record by a factor of 4-5. Alas, if you check the journal article that goes with this press release you'll find that their actual efficiency was 2.3%, or about half the current record for an organic solar cell, an eighth that of a typical commercially available silicon solar cell, and less than a tenth of the best commercially available silicon solar cell. On some level, this is acknowledged a few lines after the one you quote:

While the solar cell in this demonstration device is not especially efficient, because of its low weight, its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest ever achieved.

Comment Re:Watts per gram (Score 1) 135

Thats a new way of defining solar cell efficiency, usually they go by area. It certainly won't power the next generation of electronic devices, maybe in 10 or 20 years something like this might see production

I think they got the idea from the less common metric g/W. A little over a decade ago there was a shortage of purfied silicon that lasted quite a few years, and during that time the solar industry became very interested in the number of grams of silicon that were required to produce a watt of power. Naturally, the power conversion efficiency of the cell has an impact on this number, but so do things like the thickness of the wafer, how much silicon is lost during production, and so forth. My guess is that these guys saw this metric in the PV literature but thought big numbers sound better than small ones, so they inverted it instead of saying 0.17 g/W. By way of comparison, a typical silicon solar module these days requires about 5.3 g/W (though that's just grams of silicon, not the total weight of the module -- but even so it's a fairer comparison, since a solar cell as thin as this one is also going to need some packaging to protect it).

Or maybe their choice was motivated by something else important to organic electronics people. I don't know, I'm a silicon solar guy.

As for your last statement, even the organic solar guys I know (except for one at Oxford Solar) think 10-20 years to see organic solar cells in production, except perhaps for niche applications, is quite optimistic.

Comment Re: How damage resistant is it? (Score 3, Informative) 135

Watts per square inch is more important. If I have a ultrathin solar panel and it gets that many grams/watt it probably takes a huge surface area to get that power.

You need to read the article to understand why it's an advance. For 1 the process itself creates clearer cells hence an increase in efficiency. It you want to compare conventional cells to this one you need to have comparative data as you mentioned which we do not have. In their application watts per grams is ideal because their current intended use is on flying objects such as weather balloons. Here's the part of the article:

While the solar cell in this demonstration device is not especially efficient, because of its low weight, its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest ever achieved. That’s important for applications where weight is important, such as on spacecraft or on high-altitude helium balloons used for research. Whereas a typical silicon-based solar module, whose weight is dominated by a glass cover, may produce about 15 watts of power per kilogram of weight, the new cells have already demonstrated an output of 6 watts per gram — about 400 times higher.

"Clearer cells" does not mean an increase in efficiency, in fact it means just the opposite. A clear solar cell is not absorbing a significant amount of light (or at least if it is, it is not producing a significant voltage, and hence not much power), whereas conventional opaque solar cells absorb extremely efficiently in the part of the spectrum where the sun produces the most photons.

Furthermore, the W/g comparison from the article is utterly meaningless. A solar cell made from a 180-micron-thick silicon wafer can't survive the elements without encapsulation, hence the heavy glass sheet for terrestrial solar modules. Even solar cells launched into space are protected by a polymer encapsulant and a glass sheet (though both are much thinner and lighter than for a terrestrial module). Implying that you can replace a fully encapsulated solar module with a completely unprotected polymer solar cell 1/10th the thickness of a sheet of cellophane to is like saying you can replace a boat's sail with a sheet of gauze and steer your way through a gale. Sure, maybe the cell does put out more W/g than a conventional cell, but quantifying the claim like this makes them look dishonest.

Finally, to date, organic solar cell degrade rapidly when exposed to light -- so rapidly that organic cell researchers have been known to transport their cells to certification labs in light-tight boxes and supervise their efficiency measurements to ensure the cells are not needlessly exposed to light for even a few minutes. Add the high-radiation environment of space to the mix and you aren't likely to see these cells being shot into space anytime soon. Not to mention that even undegraded the cells are only 2.3%-efficient. The cells used in space applications are already significantly lighter than the structures they're mounted on, so cutting the efficiency by more than a factor of 10 is likely to result in increased weight no matter how light the cells are.

Comment Re:Environmental concerns (Score 1) 298

This is not a particularly good example of the economics of solar. For starters, it's a concentrated solar thermal plant, which is significantly more expensive than a photovoltaic plant. There's a reason most everybody has given up on solar thermal. So sure, this plant cost $9 billion, but two years ago SunPower sold a 579 MW photovoltaic power plant to Warren Buffet's Mid-American energy company for $2-2.5 billion -- and aside from being two years ago, that's with solar panels guaranteed for 25 years from a company widely regarded as one of the most expensive in the business. Based on similar deals and using solar modules from a cheaper supplier, that same plant now would likely cost more like $600-700 million to build and sell for something like $800-900 million.

And when you're talking about the footprint of nuclear, don't forget to count the land dedicated to mining uranium, much of which comes from land-hungry strip mines, and processing waste (both from the plant and the mining operations). Those plots of land are just as useless as the ones the plant itself sits on. Also, don't forget that nuclear uses an enormous amount of water, rendering it rather impractical in many desert regions.

Comment Re:Mobile communications experience in the US (Score 1) 142

My wife and I have unlimited phone/4G Data/texting, plus 5gb hotspot data apiece, for a total of $100/month through T-Mobile. If US was really that bad, why the need to make shit up?

I don't think there's a lot of "making shit up" going on here. I live in France and for $100/month my wife and I could each have 20 GB mobile data with unlimited texting and free calls to 100 countries, unlimited hotspot data, blazing-fast fiber-optic internet service with VOIP (also with free calling around the world) at home, and TV service with more premium channels than we would watch. As it stands, we pay 38€/month and get all of that except the mobile data (because my wife doesn't have a smartphone and I get mine through work) and the premium TV channels. They throw in my wife's dumbphone service for free.

When I last lived in the US I paid $80/month for our mobile service, plus another $100/month for cable and internet with no premium channels, no VOIP, and no free global calling. I know things have changed -- smartphones were just starting to appear when we moved -- and $100/month for what your getting is a big improvement over what I was getting for $80/month. Still, that you consider it a good price is all I need to know to confirm that the American telecom industry is still in sad shape compared to the rest of the world. (And it doesn't help that in the course of this year I got better mobile service in a small town 5 hours outside of Shanghai than I did in central Michigan.)

Comment Re:Is my time free too? (Score 2) 654

I pay less than 90 euros/month to get most places in Paris and its suburbs (and that's about to go down to 77 euros/month with access to a much wider area). I can't even get a parking space that cheap. Add in the cost of insurance, gas, the car itself and it's a no-brainer. In the rare case that getting somewhere 10 minutes faster is important to me, or I'm going home after most transit has stopped and I won't spare the time for the night bus, I've saved plenty to spring for a taxi.

But it's not just that it's an urban environment. I used to live in a small town in Belgium and I managed to get almost everywhere I needed to in the country -- not the town, but the entire country -- on public transit, and often faster than if I'd had a car (i.e., pretty much anytime I had to travel through Brussels during rush hour or an event that attracted international dignitaries).

Contrast that with Atlanta, where I owned a car primarily so I could travel less than 4 miles to work along a route that was served by a bus that often, but not always, showed up. Even when it showed up, it only showed up once an hour. And if I wanted to use MARTA (Atlanta's version of a subway), I needed that bus, since MARTA hardly goes anywhere. Granted, Belgium is a small country, but it still seems wrong that I could travel halfway across it -- the whole country -- in the time it took me to get from Virginia-Highland to Midtown on public transit.

Comment Re:Anonymous sees the logical flaw, right? (Score 1) 509

Removing the freedom of speech of those who would seek to remove the freedom of speech ....

I'm not sure that's an entirely accurate way to characterize the statement by Anonymous. The way I read it, they're not trying to silence the jihadists, but merely disrupt the channels they use to communicate with one another. Maybe I'm wrong. Either way, it seems to me to be a bit of poetic justice, a well thought-out way to target the perpetrators of violence in a peaceful, yet disruptive manner without offending the billion or so peaceful Muslims on the planet (which, honestly, is the route I expected them to go...).

Comment Re:How can you (Score 3, Insightful) 171

A lot of companies used CIGS or CdTe.

"Used" is the key word here.

Because you can more easily use print and roll technologies and get fabrication costs down.

In theory. In practice, almost everybody who has tried it has failed. Thin film PV requires very large sheets of very thin layers that are also very uniform. It's not an easy task, and those who have solved it have not been eager to share how they did it. Nor have they been able to maintain their cost advantage against silicon PV.

Examples include FirstSolar and NanoSolar.

I'll grant you that First Solar is doing just fine, but not only has Nanosolar been unsuccessful, it doesn't even exist anymore. The only reasonably successful CIGS manufacturer to date (as defined by having a production volume similar to that of mid-sized silicon PV companies) has been Frontier Solar, and they ain't exactly cheap.

What the Chinese managed to do was lower the costs enough using conventional technology pushed to the limit that the advantages of low temperature manufacturing without requiring silicon ingot formation

Huh? Low-temperature manufacturing? No ingots? I monitor Chinese PV manufacturing practices like it's my job. Because it is my job. I've been inside the fabs. I know the people who develop the technology. I assure you that they process their silicon and their wafers at the same temperature as everybody else, and that every single one of them is using ingot-based wafers. What the Chinese managed to do was develop an extensive local supply chain, then squeeze the crap out of everybody's profit margins when times got tough. Low labor cost played a role too, though with rapid wage inflation, the low labor intensity of solar cell production, and the increasing automation of solar module production, labor cost is not really much of a factor anymore.

Comment Re:He's right (Score 3, Interesting) 276

And from my experience, publishing dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles, your experience is the exception. In fact, many sciences do not even utilize technicians. In the ten or so laboratories that I have worked in/with and the labs of the numerous professors that I talk with about their publication policies, exactly zero will allow someone authorship on a paper that they don't see until it's "basically finished." I'm sure some fall through the cracks, though certainly not the majority. However, I would not generalize my experiences and neither should you.

My experience -- also publishing dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles -- is quite different from yours and much more like that of the poster to whom you were responding. More than once I've found out that I was a co-author on an article when the publishing company contacted me to let me know that my article had been received for submission. That's even a step beyond what the first poster mentioned -- I didn't even see the article that I supposedly co-authored until after it was submitted for publication! I've also had my authorship credit manipulated so as to imply collaboration where there was none. It was accidental, I think, but afterward there was actually a story in the press about our non-existent collaboration.

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