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Comment Re:In other news (Score 1) 78

I think the problem NetFlix is facing isn't obvious to everyone. With the expiry of their Starz license and the general consensus that the licensing deal they gave NetFlix was ridiculously cheap ($25 million a year for access to Sony and Disney movies) and will never happen again, with Starz or any other company.

This article claims that Netflix's (sic?) licensing fees are going to go from $180 million in 2010 to $2 billion in 2012. It was in the face of this impending tidal-wave that Netflix hiked its prices. Customers may have been shocked, but in hindsight it seems inevitable: this famous article from December of last year cites Time Warner's CEO saying exactly the same thing - that NetFlix was only competitive because of its unbelievable deal with Starz and once that deal expired NetFlix was screwed. And he said them becoming a major player in broadcasting was the equivalent of the Albanian army taking over the world - a quote that people immediately jumped on like it was the equivalent of Michael Dell saying Apple should be broken up in 1997. Except that right now it would seem the guy was onto something.

I think NetFlix are/were an innovative and exciting company and I wish them all the best. But I don't know if they're going to be around in 5 or 10 years, for the simple fact that the competition has caught up and can throw much more weight around when it comes to licensing content. At the end of the day, it might turn out that licensing made NetFlix, and will ultimately break it. Maybe I'm wrong - maybe they will be able to continue to out-innovate the competition, or sign some sweet-heart content deal that saves them. But I don't think I'll be investing in NetFlix at the moment.

Comment Re:Pogo Plug? (Score 1) 482

I have a pogoplug but was not particularly impressed with it. The main problem was that it was super slow. I don't know if it was just my ISP or if it's routing everything through pogoplug servers (I'd heard the latter) but I'd be lucky to get 30kbs on it from a computer on the other side of the city. The other problem is it has (or at least had) a bunch of bugs in it, and the web interface was brutal.
I replaced it with a $100 desktop i bought from the recycling depot and run an FTP and subsonic on it for hosting music. I find this much more effective than the pogoplug was, although maybe if I'd had more patience I could have gotten it to work better. It also allowed me to install tversity to stream movies to my play station. They aren't FOSS, but they are free and I'm very happy with subsonic and tversity so far.

Comment Re:Isn't this how the USSR ended? (Score 1) 456

As others have said, the US did try to force the Soviets to spend money they couldn't afford to maintain military parity. Why they couldn't afford it was a separate issue, but I think it's quite reasonable to assume Reagan's massive defense spending increases helped speed up the collapse. I don't know if the Soviet Union would have collapsed were it not for the US, but I'm pretty sure they would have lasted longer than they did. Many of their costly endeavors, like Afghanistan, their space program, their military and so on, were in direct response to the US. More to the point, the USSR would have been the most powerful country in the world if the US wasn't in the picture. Who knows how history would have progressed if that were the case?

Comment Re:but but (Score 1) 390

I wouldn't say almost nobody owns their mineral rights. In urban areas, that's true, but in the rural areas where shale gas is being developed I think it's much more common. And people sue oil and gas companies all the time for all sorts of things. I doubt they'd have much trouble settling with or suing a company succesfully if they could demonstrate that they screwed up their water. Do you have a source to saying that natural gas fracking lowers property values? I haven't heard that before, but I have heard of previously cheap rural land (well, the mineral rights to be exact) in certain areas in the North-East and elsewhere escalating in value hugely in recent years due to their gas potential.

Comment Re:but but (Score 1) 390

I don't think that's really fair. The last thing a shale gas company wants is to have local people's water taps exploding. It's obviously poor business for 3 reasons I can think of right now: 1) they could get shut down for it and 2) usually in the US, the company has to buy mineral rights from locals who might object to you blowing up their neighbors and 3), operating in the oil and gas industry is much, much easier when the locals are on side and not fighting you at ever turn.

I think you'd be surprised how much regulation in the North American oil and gas industry is administered by the companies themselves. Yes the government is involved, but no one knows the impacts of oil and gas development better than oil and gas companies, so the problems are often identified and corresponding solutions and best practices developed by the industry itself, not the government.

Comment Re:but but (Score 1) 390

If by radioactivity you are referring to tracers, I'll point out that the amounts used for that purpose are extremely small. It is very difficult to imagine someone being harmed by a source of radiation this weak, particularly when there are so many stronger sources to worry about in day to day life. That said disposal is a serious issue for oil and gas companies, but unless I'm reading you wrong I think you're excluding one of the most common ways of disposing of fluid: injecting it into deep formations that are considered properly sealed. I actually don't know if this is done in the Marcellus plays (you couldn't inject it into the Marcellus itself because the injectivity would suck), but throughout the oil and gas industry, if there is a suitable formation (such as a depleted oil zone) companies will often opt for that.

Comment Re:but but (Score 1) 390

As I said above, it's possible, but unlikely, that gas is reaching the aquifers through the rock. Much more likely it's reaching up the well bores through the cement jobs. Same result, but not as difficult a problem to fix.

That they use explosive charges is a bit of a red herring. The charges are used to shoot slugs of metal through the casing and rock near the well bore in order for the frac fluid to enter the formation, the slugs travel a few feet into the rock at best. They're used in all oil and gas wells that have casing that needs to be produced through and aren't by themselves blamed for much. The frac fluid may include exotic proprietary chemicals like foaming agents to better carry proppant, or may just be water. Proppant is the sand they pump down with the fluid to enter the fractures made and then hold them open once the pressure is removed. That they need to do this illuminates why it's unlikely that a fracture is reaching from the Marcellus to the water zones: if sand isn't pushed into the crack, the fracture will close up and not allow flow even a few feet from the well. It is extremely hard to imagine that a fracture could reach thousands of feet above and be held open, without proppant, after the pressure is removed. Crappy cement jobs causing communication between zones, on the other hand, are well known to the industry.

Comment Re:but but (Score 1) 390

From what I've heard, almost all cases of gas getting into drinking water tables is through poor cement jobs. Put it this way: the gas zones have had millions of years to equalize with zones around it. They're at a higher pressure than the formations above them and if they weren't sealed the gas would have escaped to the aquifers, and probably the surface, eons ago. Now a well gets drilled to them and gas is found to be finding its way into formations far above them. While it is possible that the frac job has made a fracture all the way to this, that far less likely than gas being able to find its way through voidage in the cement job in the well bore. I suppose that frac fluids could also make their way through the casing in this matter, but not as easily as gas.

The number of problem wells is relatively small, probably much less than 1%, but because there are so many of these wells being drilled dramatic incidents start adding up. Maybe in their rush, service companies are getting sloppier with their cementing jobs, but I haven't heard any evidence of this. I don't really know the best response to the problems. America needs energy, and gas is a very attractive way of generating it, far better than coal. Plus the shale gas industry brings money to regions that can really use it at the moment. But on the other hand, people's drinking water keeps exploding. Hopefully the problems can be brought under control and the massage resource that is shale gas can be exploited to its potential.

Comment Re:A sense of scale (Score 1) 542

Actually, most of humanity still lives in squalor and poverty. My view on space colonization is this: in the long term, absolutely it is a great idea. It is the only way humanity can ensure its continued survival and be more than an infinitesimal blip in the history of the universe.
In the short term, I see no way to justify the trillions of dollars required to become a "space faring civilization" while so much of the human population is having trouble keeping body and soul together. Once we have stabilized our population, sorted our nations states out politically to at least provide basic necessities and freedoms to the bulk of people and eliminate the threat of war hanging over so many heads, then I think we, as a species, are ready to start approaching such transcendental goals as colonizing other worlds.
Humans haven't been around that long in the big scheme of things. Our relatively short lifespans make us impatient and eager to expand quickly. But any meaningful off-world colonization will be the work of generations and will probably not see significant returns for centuries (I'm talking about inter-stellar colonization being the ultimate goal, the only type that I think is really worth a damn in the overall scheme). In my opinion, it makes no sense to bite off such a huge challenge when we live in such a precipitous situation at home. So by all means, lets continue to send probes to assess the universe. But human exploration is almost certain to be a less effective use of money, and is favourable only from a PR/political perspective.

Comment An undeserved slight (Score 1) 203

I don't really understand the point the poster is trying to make here. The technology Kahn uses is good enough, but it's nothing special. It's exceedingly simple really, and the capability to do it has been around for many years, as has youtube for sharing it. Although the technology available to Kahn's is superior in one critical way to PLATO - it is hugely more accessible - that's not the main reason for his popularity.
The reason for Khan's success is that he is a good teacher, he's a smart guy that knows a lot about a broad range of subjects and he has made putting these lessons on the internet his full time job. This post sounds to me like saying the Beatles were a bunch of hacks because people were putting songs on wax cylinders 70 years before. It's not about the medium, it's about the content, and smart as PLATO's designers were, I highly doubt they were as good at teaching as Kahn is.
I understand a lot of people want to dump on Bill Gates here. But even if you don't like his teaching style, it's hard not to respect Salman Kahn. If you don't like his lessons, don't watch them. But I think it's obvious that he has helped a lot of people learn some pretty challenging material.

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