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Comment Re:Wireless charging? NOT POSSIBLE. Breaks Phys la (Score 4, Informative) 115

t's really weird how people who know NOTHING about PHYSICS assume they can make decisions about technology.

I teach physics. In fact, I teach electrodynamics, off and on. Is it possible to charge a cell phone with wireless technology? Sure. All you need is a big enough tesla coil and a big enough loop and the ability to rectify broadband noise. If you are radiating a couple of hundred watts you can probably pull a watt out of it if you aren't too far away. Of course, you can also cook a hot dog if it isn't too far away.

Now let's consider 802.11 signals. The signal strength is limited to 1 watt by the FCC, but IEEE specs peg it at 23 to 24 dBm (200-250 mW). One whole watt is 30 dBm in decibels(milliwatt), and you can get an effective gain of 6 dBm (x4) or 4 watts with the antenna:


Most wireless receivers operate with signal power (coming into the receiver antenna) in the ballpark of -10 dBm to -100 dBm, where at the low end of that range one is likely down in the noise. That is (translating to power) 100 microwatts down to 10^{-13} watts (10^{-10} milliwatts). If one takes the average cell phone's surface area -- maybe 50 or 60 cm^2 -- and compare it to the radiating solid angle of a transmitter just 50 cm away, it is a very small fraction -- order of 50 to 50^2 or order of 1%. So if one starts with 200 mW and receive it with 100% efficiency around a half meter away, one would be lucky to get more than around 1 mW. USB cell phone wall chargers, OTOH, typically use 1 to 2 W, and still take hours to charge a discharged phone. We could anticipate charging times of order 1000 hours, then, at a mW trickle.

The one place and way this MIGHT work, then, is if one places the phone ON the 802.11 transmitter, just outside of the antenna, close enough that the phone subtends at least 1/10 of its radiation pattern. Assuming a 36 dBm antenna signal strength (4 W), picking up 0.4W, with maybe 0.1 to 0.2 W usable power input after accounting for RMS power and efficiencies, you would be to the point where one might be able to recharge a partially discharged phone in a day.

The big question is then, who would want to do this? A normal 23 dBm transmitter would take weeks to charge the phone even sitting on top of it, and the phone itself would be sucking up the signal you need for your devices to operate. It would still take all day to charge instead of a few hours. It would (probably) cost more than existing "charging pads" that do the same thing and charge your phone wirelessly through induction and an inverter. It would interfere with your 802.11 device and likely reduce its effectiveness at the purpose for which it was intended. It's like "hey, we can build an antenna so that if we put your phone in the microwave oven, it will recharge it really quickly, if we shield the phone and don't mind possibly ruining the microwave". Sure, but why would we, when wall-warts and a cable cost $15, when solar chargers that actually work and don't leach power from 802.11 devices cost less than $100, etc?

The one thing you will NOT be able to do is to recharge your phone from across the room, or keep your phone charged by just sitting in the same room as an 802.11 transmitter. You'd need a phased array of antennae a half-meter wide to get enough directional concentration across a room, and it would make your transmitter pretty much useless as an actual transmitter for 802.11 devices long before that. Even if you pulled ALL the power from a 23 dBm transmitter the numbers just don't make sense for this.

Comment I suggested training on sims to Alain a decade ago (Score 1) 57

I worked with Alain Kornhauser about thirty years ago, first taking his robotics course as an undergraduate, later managing his robotics lab as an employee, and then again even later (briefly) as a grad student tangentially as part of a group doing self-driving car research focused mainly on a neural networks approach. I had also been hanging around Red Whittaker's group making the first ALVAN (Autonomous Land Vehicle) around 1986 before going back to Princeton to work as an employee.

While I did not contribute much of significance to that self-driving car group (I had other interests), I had suggested we train cars to just drive one specific route based on videos from driving that route a variety of times. I guessed that most daily commutes are just along the same route and so that could be a big win. But he dismissed that idea for some reason I'm still not sure I understand. Still think it made a lot of sense though for the resources we had at the time.

About ten years ago I suggested he get his PAVE students to write software to drive Gran Turismo as a challenge. Not much response from him on that then though. Glad to see his is finally doing that -- although with much better game/simulation software now.

I also suggested he could make PAVE the free and open source software hub for self-driving vehicle software to address some concerns I outlined back in 2001 in the essay to the Markle Foundation:

From the email I sent Alain in 2007-02-02:

"Glad to read of your group's successes with the Grand Challenge. I've long thought a fun project for your students would be to write software that takes visual input from a a PlayStation 2 driving game like "Gran Turismo"
(direct via video out to video capture, or even through a camera focused on a TV) and processes that image to drive the simulation via a USB hookup into the PlayStation. Not quite the real thing (and Red Whittaker might rightfully scoff at that approach as ignoring much of the challenge of making real hardware survive in a tough environment :-) , but it is cheap, easy, and safe to do in an undergraduate lab with limited supervision. And the racing game simulators just keep getting more and more realistic. And if that challenge becomes too easy, you can then add noise to the video signal to make it harder... Or introduce lags or noise in the USB steering. And then start working on controlling ATV Off Road Fury or the the Snowmobile racing games, and so on. Or have kids write software to control one game and then give them only one day to make it work for another... Probably lots of good science and engineering and education to do there on a (relatively) small budget."

I mentioned that idea again to him in 2011-06-18 when I was looking for jobs:

"Or maybe you need someone to do more work on cars that drive themselves, which sounds like more fun? :-) Except that PAVE stuff is all student run, and good for that approach, so I can see you probably won't need someone for that. I still feel getting students interested in writing open source software to process images from the latest driving simulator games is a good (safe) project that might advance the state-of-the-art in automotive intelligence in a very positive way. :-) I'm sure it would at lead to lots of funny press though ("Students at Princeton are seriously playing with video games", and so on). Whether that is good or bad depends on your point of view, perhaps."

Anyway, glad to see that idea finally getting some traction. :-)

While he did not take some of my ideas that seriously, I did not take his idea of the self-driving car stuff that seriously myself back then. Not that I objected to it -- I just did not see the urgency for it and was more interested in robot manipulation (being a fan of the "Silent Running" drones).

But Alain saw the value in self-driving cars decades before most other people. He explained how they could save lives by being safer -- as well as reduce expenses and reduce pollution by being more efficient.

Alain is a brilliant guy and a nice person too (they don't always go together) -- wish I had made more of my time working with him. Looking back on it, I think, wow, what if I had just been excited to do a project to make a self-driving golf-card for the Princeton campus for alumni or for the annual P-rade? That would have been a great place to start and I'm sure we could have been successful enough on a limited scale with a limited budget to move onto grander things.

Back in my early 20s I just did not appreciate what a great opportunity working with him was. Working with him as an employee for a year in his robotics lab was where I learned so much about 3D graphics which made it possible to write a garden simulator and also PlantStudio software (for breeding 3D botanical plants). Best job working for someone else I ever had. Thanks Alain!

Comment Peopleware book on team spirit & also "e(vil)m (Score 2) 148

"Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" explains how supporting true team spirit is a key aspect of a high-performance organization. You can find some good evidence in there for your point.

The authors also explain better ways to manage email. Here are subheadings from the book chapter:

Chapter 33: E(vil) Mail 199
In Days of Yore 199
Corporate Spam 200
What Does "FYI" Even Mean? 200
Is This an Open Organization or a Commune? 201
Repeal Passive Consent 201
Building a Spam-less Self-Coordinating Organization 202

In general, their focus on good use of email is on helping people in organizations self-coordinate. It is more a vision of the manager as supporting good communications within and between teams versus than a manager being a hub of communications. So, to them, lots of CCs on emails suggest the possibility of some sort of organizational dysfunction which could be corrected by training people to be more self-coordinating.

That book is the second item I list here in a curated reading list on creating and sustaining high-performance organizations:

Another book by one of the authors (Tom DeMarco) is listed as the first item: "Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency"

But, this is all easier said than done in practice.

Comment How Khan Academy handles email transparency (Score 4, Interesting) 148

"Every team has two email addresses: one for team members and one for the team's "blackhole." [For example: ] analytics-team@khanacademy.org and analytics-blackhole@khanacademy.org.
    The -team@ address is for emailing all members of the team. When you send email to analytics-team@, you expect everyone on the analytics team to read it. Subscribing to analytics-team@ means analytics-related email will land in your priority inbox as soon as it's sent, and you're expected to read it.
    The -blackhole@ address is for anything else that has anything to do with analytics. When you CC:analytics-blackhole@, you don't expect subscribers to immediately read it. Subscribing to analytics-blackhole@ means you'll receive analytics-related email, but it'll get filtered out of your inbox and you're not expected to read it unless you feel like it. ... Anybody in the org can join any of these email lists. analytics-team@ is usually just team members, but analytics-blackhole@ has all sorts of lookie-loo subscribers who're interested in analytics happenings."

The approach was derived from how Stripe does it: https://stripe.com/blog/email-...

So, given the original story, maybe this transparency approach has an extra side effect (perhaps unintended) of maintaining trust in an organization by avoiding the "directly CC-ing the boss" effect?

It's not quite BCCing the whole company -- like Tesen joked -- as it is more organized. But essentially the whole company could in theory read (almost) anything with that approach.

Comment Re:Question for the Physicists. (Score 3, Interesting) 79

Here is a really cool fact that you can use to impress chicks at cocktail parties: A magnetic force and an electrical force are the SAME THING. The only difference is your inertial frame of reference. Let's say you have two parallel copper wires with current flowing through them. The negative charge in the electrons and the positive charge in the copper nuclei should cancel each other out, and there should be no force between them. BUT THERE IS. This is magnetism. But it is really just plain only electrical attraction because the electrons are moving, so their inertial reference frame is different from the reference frame of the copper nuclei. A moving reference frame has a Lorentz contraction, so the copper nuclei "see" more electrons per length of wire, resulting in an attraction.

No. Magnetic and electrical force and energy aren't exactly "the same thing". The magnetic and electric field are both components of the second rank field strength tensor, the Lorentz force in electromagnetic theory is not just the Lorentz transform of the Coulomb force, and magnetic and electric field energies are independently summed when assembling the total electromagnetic field energy density. Finally, good luck describing electron spin and the resultant intrinsic magnetic dipole moment in terms of a Lorentz transformation of the bare Coulomb field of the (point) charge -- there is no rotating frame or mass moving around mass.

There are basically two different ways to discuss them. One way is to stop talking about electric and magnetic fields independently at all and only work with the electromagnetic field (strength tensor) where the electric and magnetic components are NOT THE SAME and do NOT HAVE THE SAME SYMMETRY. The other way is to pretend (as most intro books do, because usually it works pretty well if you're considering low velocities and coarse-grain-averaged "smooth" charge/current densities) that E and B are ordinary vectors and write down Maxwell's equations. There are FOUR of them -- two if you go with the covariant field strength tensor formulation, and you cannot write them all down in terms of a single vector field (or the resultant force).

F_e = qE (F, E vectors)
F_b = q v x B (F, v, B vectors)

The electrostatic force obeys Newton's third law. The magnetic force (with the cross product) does not,. and one has to work very hard indeed to find the missing energy and momentum in the electromagnetic field when two charged particles interact in the general case.

Sadly, I haven't found that knowing graduate level electrodynamics well enough to teach it impresses chicks at cocktail parties.

Comment KIM-1 for me, too! (Score 1) 857

Great story of coming full-circle.

My first store-bought computer was also a KIM-1. I had wanted a computer for years, always looking at advertisements in magazines, and subscribing eventually to BYTE. I remember going together with my father to a computer store (on Long Island) to look around. I think it was a second-floor showroom which was not very big -- maybe over other stores or in a house? I remember seeing some kind of computer there on a table with a terminal and a disk drive comping PASCAL or something like that. The KIM-1 was probably the cheapest thing there -- sitting in a display case by the cash register.

My father and I soldered a power supply together for it. I seem to remember saving longer programs to cassette tape.

Before the KIM, I had built circuits from logic ICs from RadioShack, and before those I had built circuits from discarded lights and switches my father had brought home from work. I had also haunted RadioShacks to play with the TRS-80s there -- and learned a lot by doing the exercises using pencil in a TRS-80 tutorial guide "Users Manual for Level 1".

I was lucky that a high school teacher also had a computer company selling educational computers. He would loan me PETS for a time I would write some software for or fix up or do other things with. One time he loaned me an Apple II for a couple days -- but that is all I ever did with one of those. Our high school (in the late 1970s) also was part of a Long Island BOCES timesharing group so we could dial-in from school (or later home on a PET) to a PDP-10 and run stuff there (not that I understood that much of what was going on the PDP-10 back then).

I sold the KIM-1 (sigh) to get money to buy my own PET from that teacher, and then got a printer and a dual floppy disk drive (forgoing all my future allowance to pay for it). Overlapping the PET I got a VIC (which I wrote a video game for which helped pay for college) and then a C64. I really liked Forth cartridges I got for the VIC and C64. I made an interface box so a PET, VIC, or C64 could control relays and extra multiplexed I/O lines (binary, A/D, and D/A). I interfaced that to a Battle Iron Claw robot from RadioShack I used in my undergraduate AI research

Eventually, I got a couple of embedded 6811-based Forth computers for fun -- I used them to radio control a Petster robot cat. Later I got a (Panasonic?) portable with a micro-tape drive I ended up returning at my manager's suggestion when the lab I was working at got a portable 8086 computer he let me take home (still wish I had kept the other laptop which was surprisingly good), then a Z88 portable, and finally my first 80386 IBM PC from Gateway I needed for a a computer contracting job.

After that was bunch of other PCs and Macs, Newtons , a Palm Pilot, a couple handheld Linux devices, a couple of OLPCs, and so on -- into the current days of Chromebooks, Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, OpenWRT-powered routers, and of course PC & Mac laptops.

Might have missed something or other in there.

Frankly, I no longer know exactly how many computers I own. :-)

The KIM-1 It was a big mystery to me at first. I had gotten an assembly language programming book but did not really understand it. It took quite a while to "click" and I'm not sure it ever really did until I later did assembly using a PET -- both to Peek and Poke and to run a macro assembler on the PET. But the KIM-1 set me up well to understand the PET quickly -- as well as a "Cardiac" cardboard computer we used in high school.

So, I can credit starting with a KIM-1 as teaching me a lot about the fundamentals of computing which has helped me throughout my career -- especially having confidence I can understand systems all the way to the metal (in theory). Thanks, Dad!!!

Sadly, my own kid has little interest in the low-level details of computers. Nowadays, pre-made applications can do so much such as Minecraft and Space Engineers, it's hard for kids to get excited about adding two numbers together with assembly language or wiring up your own multiplexer or whatever -- whereas when we started, the basics were the fun stuff that seemed to open up doors to fun and careers.

I'm curious though about WebAssembly as maybe a way to have low-level fun again? :-)

Lucky you to be in embedded. Doing web stuff now and so much of the underlying technology base is inefficient badly-designed junk piled on more of the same. For example, I have to wait tens of seconds for rebuilds of complex web stacks when on my VIC-20 with a Forth Cartridge (millions of times slower as a computer) I could just edit the (dis)assembly by hand and keep going. :-) Obviously modern computers can do so much more, but a certain level of interactivity, robustness, and comprehensibility seems lost.

Some quasi-low-level programming humor. :-)

Comment Sal Khan skipped MIT classes but did problem sets (Score 1) 178

... as he explains in his "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined" book: https://www.khanacademy.org/ab...

Sal Khan says it won't be right for everyone, but if you are motivated, the "seat time" as a "passive learner" in large lecture courses is mostly wasted time compared to being an "active learner" working through problem sets. He says there that skipping classes was how he and others at MIT were able to take double the normal course load and graduate with high grades and multiple degrees. See:

So, in that sense, it might not be surprising or an indictment of college that the GP AC poster was able to miss all the 8am classes for a course and still pass it -- if they did the assignments and otherwise read the text book or other readings and such.

Of course, while class skipping may work for large lecture courses, it may be more problematical for the best sort of small seminar courses where a lot of active participation goes on in class as discussion and is part of the learning process.

So, without knowing the class and what the GP AC did to pass it, it it hard to generalize about college.

That said, you might like these links I put together almost a decade ago on problems with current schooling practices and various alternatives:

"[p2p-research] College Daze links (was Re: : FlossedBk, "Free/Libre and Open Source Solutions for Education")"

"[p2p-research] The Higher Educational Bubble Continues to Grow"

"[p2p-research] Rebutting Communique from an Absent Future (was Re: Information on student protests)"

Comment On breeding friendlier corporations and AIs (Score 1) 131

Part of something I posted in 2000 to Doug Engelbart's "Unifinshed Revolution II" colloquium touching on corporations as "AIs":

========= machine intelligence is already here =========
I personally think machine evolution is unstoppable, and the best hope for humanity is the noble cowardice of creating refugia and trying, like the duckweed, to create human (and other) life faster than other forces can destroy it.

Note, I'm not saying machine evolution won't have a human component -- in that sense, a corporation or any bureaucracy is already a separate machine intelligence, just not a very smart or resilient one. This sense of the corporation comes out of Langdon Winner's book "Autonomous Technology: Technics out of control as a theme in political thought".

You may have a tough time believing this, but Winner makes a convincing case. He suggests that all successful organizations "reverse-adapt" their goals and their environment to ensure their continued survival. These corporate machine intelligences are already driving for better machine intelligences -- faster, more efficient, cheaper, and more resilient. People forget that corporate charters used to be routinely revoked for behavior outside the immediate public good, and that corporations were not considered persons until around 1886 (that decision perhaps being the first major example of a machine using the political/social process of its own ends).

Corporate charters are granted supposedly because society believe it is in the best interest of *society* for corporations to exist. But, when was the last time people were able to pull the "charter" plug on a corporation not acting in the public interest? It's hard, and it will get harder when corporations don't need people to run themselves.

I'm not saying the people in corporations are evil -- just that they often have very limited choices of actions. If a corporate CEOs do not deliver short term profits they are removed, no matter what they were trying to do. Obviously there are exceptions for a while -- William C. Norris of Control Data was one of them, but in general, the exception proves the rule. Fortunately though, even in the worst machines (like in WWII Germany) there were individuals who did what they could to make them more humane ("Schindler's List" being an example).

Look at how much William C. Norris http://www.neii.com/wnorris.ht... of Control Data got ridiculed in the 1970s for suggesting the then radical notion that "business exists to meet society's unmet needs". Yet his pioneering efforts in education, employee assistance plans, on-site daycare, urban renewal, and socially-responsible investing are in part what made Minneapolis/St.Paul the great area it is today. Such efforts are now being duplicated to an extent by other companies. Even the company that squashed CDC in the mid 1980s (IBM) has adopted some of those policies and directions. So corporations can adapt when they feel the need.

Obviously, corporations are not all powerful. The world still has some individuals who have wealth to equal major corporations. There are several governments that are as powerful or more so than major corporations. Individuals in corporations can make persuasive pitches about their future directions, and individuals with controlling shares may be able to influence what a corporation does (as far as the market allows). In the long run, many corporations are trying to coexist with people to the extent they need to. But it is not clear what corporations (especially large ones) will do as we approach this singularity -- where AIs and robots are cheaper to employ than people. Today's corporation, like any intelligent machine, is more than the sum of its parts (equipment, goodwill, IP, cash, credit, and people). It's "plug" is not easy to pull, and it can't be easily controlled against its short term

What sort of laws and rules will be needed then? If the threat of corporate charter revocation is still possible by governments and collaborations of individuals, in what new directions will corporations
have to be prodded? What should a "smart" corporation do if it sees this coming? (Hopefully adapt to be nicer more quickly. :-) What can individuals and governments do to ensure corporations "help meet society's unmet needs"?

Evolution can be made to work in positive ways, by selective breeding, the same way we got so many breeds of dogs and cats. How can we intentionally breed "nice" corporations that are symbiotic with the humans that inhabit them? To what extent is this happening already as talented individuals leave various dysfunctional, misguided, or rouge corporations (or act as "whistle blowers")? I don't say here the individual directs the corporation against its short term interest. I say that individuals affect the selective survival rates of corporations with various goals (and thus corporate evolution) by where they choose to work, what they do there, and how they interact with groups that monitor corporations. To that extent, individuals have some limited control over corporations even when they are not shareholders. Someday, thousands of years from now, corporations may finally have been bred to take the long term view and play an "infinite game".

========= saving what we can in the worst case =========
However, if preparations fail, and if we otherwise cannot preserve our humanity as is (physicality and all), we must at least adapt with grace whatever of our best values we can preserve or somehow embody in future systems. So, an OHS/DKR to that end (determining our best values, and strategies to preserve them) would be of value as well.

Comment Fictional AI in 1964 Great Time Machine Hoax novel (Score 1) 131


It runs the world by printing out business letters (and checks) that hire people to expand itself.

"Chester W. Chester IV, sole surviving heir of eccentric millionaire-inventor Chester W. Chester I, has entered into his inheritance: a semi-moribund circus; a white elephant of a run-down neo-Victorian mansion furnished with such hot items as TV sets shaped like crouching vultures; the old gentleman's final invention, a mammoth computer whose sole value seems to be as scrap metal; and one more thing--a million credits in back taxes. Either he comes up with the million credits, or it's up-the-river for Chester for a long, long time. That's why Chester is desperate enough to use the Generalized Nonlinear Extrapolator (Genie for short) to perpetrate one of the biggest entertainment scams of all time--The Great Time Machine Hoax."

I enjoyed that novel a lot and read it multiple times -- especially for the aspects of learning and training to become a more capable person (if maybe not a wiser and more compassionate one depending what you study).

Comment Re: "visible in small optical telescopes" (Score 1) 44

Seriously? When I see Jupiter (which is coming up right around dark, the brightest thing in the sky to the west besides this week's full moon) it doesn't seem that scary. Why do you cringe? Venus is quite beautiful as well. With my 10" scope I can take Saturn -- easily seen with the naked eye -- and magnify it to where we can see its rings and moons. As for meteors, I remember lying out on a dry lake bed far from city lights during one of the better meteor showers -- can't recall any more which one -- and seeing an absolute rain of them, two or three per second, for hours. Quite the opposite of a cringe-worthy experience.

You must be a very delicate soul, if tiny lights in the sky make you cringe, or if other people talking about seeing the tiny lights makes you cringe.


Comment Re:Positive (Score 3, Interesting) 316

People who lived paycheck to paycheck had NO health insurance. This was the problem obamacare was trying to fix. Something like 20% of the population of the United States has no insurance or terrible insurance. You can try to pretend that this isn't true, you can assert loudly that it is "their choice" not to buy insurance, but -- remember, they are living PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK or on NO PAYCHECK AT ALL. If they chop out $200 to $300 each month (or far, far more) for insurance, you're just saying that they have a choice between eating, or wearing shoes, or living somewhere other than under a highway overpass, and health insurance.

My wife is a physician and has been taking care of these patients for her whole career. Your "free market" solution for most of her career was this: If an indigent patient (or one who lived paycheck to paycheck, or one who just couldn't/wouldn't afford to pay) walked in to see her, she could see the patient, accept whatever medicare (elderly) or medicaid) (poor) payments they might qualify for -- well under the market value of her billable time -- or just see them pro bono, which she might well do for a patient she'd been seeing who lost their job. Hospitals were in an even worse state. If somebody walked in off the street into a hospital ER, they were LEGALLY OBLIGATED to take care of them, whether or not they could pay. Even a very small hospital/ER visit costs a lot of money, and medicare/medicaid (if it pays or paid anything at all) payed only a small fraction of the actual cost of the visit.

Your "free market" pre-obamacare solution was thus to screw the physicians and hospitals and nurses by simultaneously requiring them to provide medical treatment to people who couldn't afford it and exploiting their good nature on top of that for people living on the edge of the poverty who -- at best -- could only afford to pay something much less than the cost of the service and cannot possibly afford even the cheapest health insurance. And before you even start, let me assure you that for a physician in pretty much any practice, overhead is AT LEAST 2/3 of their billing, maybe a little bit more, so a free patient isn't just a matter of a physician contributing a bit of time, it is contributing their own time and PAYING their nurses, receptionists, PAs, for the lab (and any labs they order) and of course there is the building itself and all utilities all paid OUT OF POCKET -- directly eating into their income. This isn't a zero sum break even games, they lose money for underbilling and collectable accounts, and medicare/medicaid doesn't even pay for the overhead on the visits they supposedly pay for. So yeah, in order not to go broke WHILE working 60-65 hour weeks for half of what they would be making in a "free" market, they charge 30% more to everybody else (more like 100% in hospitals, where hospital ERs are the most expensive possible way to deliver routine health care). Guess what! You've socialized medicine, but in the worst possible way, the least fair way. And the saddest thing of all is that people don't even realize that this has happened, and yammer on about free markets and how having competitive insurance plans is somehow optimal and can take care of everybody that needs -- is mandated in law -- to be taken care of.

Obamacare didn't fix this problem, of course. It did, however, make it a lot better, and more fair, in that by increasing the number of the insured and directly subsidizing insurance for the working poor who previously had to rely on the charity of doctors or hospitals to get medical treatment or routine well-patient care, they passed the costs on to the people of the US collectively instead of forcing the physicians and hospitals individually to do what they insisted that they do, at a loss. And I'm not just talking the unemployed, I'm largely talking about precisely those living paycheck to paycheck, often working several jobs because employers don't want to have to provide benefits and only let them work 30 hours a week (each). I have three sons doing just this, and without obamacare and the 26 year old rule only one of them qualifies for an employer group health plan, and THAT is so expensive that he opted for high deductible insurance (so they could afford food, clothing, day care) and got totally screwed when he had a major health issue that lasted two years before they finally figured it all out. One is on obamacare, and as the person who actually pays for the insurance I can assure you that it is way cheaper than it would be otherwise. One is still on my group health insurance (for five more years, if congress doesn't trash a perfectly good thing that yes, I'm paying for but at group rates).

My wife is firmly convinced that unless and until we go to a single payer system, health care in the US will remain the way it is now: massively broken. We are all firmly convinced that if the US congress were required by law to use the health coverage they think is "adequate" for medicaid or medicare patients or if they were required by law to get their health care through the national VA hospital system (my wife currently works for the VA and has to wrestle with that special brand of crazy that dominates it) all of this would literally be fixed overnight. The US is behind almost all of the developed world in the tortured and demented way we provide insurance and drugs and health care. The system is anything but a free market, and as long as human poverty and disability and greed remain the way that they are will never BE a free market unless you are prepared to see people literally dying on the streets for a lack of health care.

Most people think that would be a bit barbaric. I certainly do. Beyond that, the only question has always been: Do we come up with a plan that is universal and fair, or do we try to force physicians to cover the vast distance between universal and fair by hiding the costs of universal under a thin veneer of "capitalist" respectability that makes it both socialist anyway and incredibly unfair. While (double bonus) maximizing the profitability of the insurance and big pharm industries and maintaining those all-important political contributions to BOTH parties from the insurance and big pharm megacorps.

Human rights are, of course, an illusion; life in a state of nature is ugly, nasty, brutish and short (to semiquote Hobbes). We INVENT things like the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and it is up to us to invent and establish a society where those "rights" have some meaning. It is up to us and only us to determine whether the right to "liberty" means "the freedom to starve" in a world where we have sufficient wealth to provide a decent living for every single human and still have plenty of room left over for a strong system of differential rewards for labor and sacrifice. This "utility pool" is only going to become broader and deeper over time as we invent ever more labor saving devices -- robots, automated manufacturing, sales, and delivery systems, tractors that run themselves, cars and trucks that drive themselves. We can do a lot better than the freedom to starve, the freedom to suffer and sicken and die, a life where happiness is literally impossible to pursue due to the accidents of our birth, the accidents of our life, or the vagaries of the economy.

Was obamacare a perfect solution? Of course not. With the entire country polarized, ripped apart between competing and utterly illusory memes of the ideal free market capitalist society and the ideal managed market communist/socialist society, mere common sense didn't stand a chance, and still doesn't. Congress votes on the basis of a complex religion that doesn't even have a fixed scripture or universal set of rules, and congress is for sale because we have systematically created a democracy where one cannot even dream of running for office without a stupendous budget for advertising, a budget that can only be realized with corporate money, money that only appears in your coffers if you promote policies that don't bite the hands that fill the coffers and from time to time throw them a juicy pork bone. With Big Pharm and all the insurance companies and HMOs in the country advocating on both sides of the aisle for solutions that let them continue to make enormous profits, how could anything work? And hospitals and doctors themselves aren't always saints either, but forcing them to do what we wouldn't force a mechanic to do -- to fix EVERYBODY's car, and if you can't afford to pay for it, well, the mechanic is responsible for buying the replacement parts and fixing it and paying all the overhead for his tools and garage and don't forget taxes on all of the above -- is not a reasonable or fair solution.

And before you go there, things that would work for cars (which we can at least imagine are NOT actual necessities of life itself, so sure, forcing people to earn the money to support them or do without is at the very least less crazy) would not work for people, at least not unless you are comfortable passing the corpses of men, women and children abandoned on the side of the road the way we now sometimes see dead cars.


Comment Let's do the math... (Score 1) 136

OK, so if you install windows 10 (compared to almost anything else) you save no money at all. If you installed it last year, you saved no money. If you install it this year, you STILL save no money! Hmmmm

    0_2016 x 0.28 = 0_2017

OMG! They are telling the truth! Microsoft 10 this year saves you 28% more than it did last year, because 28% of nothing is still nothing!

Of course, hmmm, if installing it actually COSTS you money -- if ROI is negative, by the time you finish messing with all of the hassles and broken bits -- are they asserting that you lose EVEN MORE (28% more!) money in 2017 than in 2016?

Enquiring minds want to know...


Comment Thanks for insights on FLOSS people & circumst (Score 1) 116

It does take people to advocate for ideas, but the time usually has to be right too.

Reminds me of Antonio Gramsci's comments on economic change: http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-g...
"Gramsci was concerned to eradicate economic determinism from Marxism and to develop its explanatory power with respect to superstructural institutions. So, he held that:
* Class struggle must always involve ideas and ideologies, ideas that would make the revolution and also that would prevent it;
* He stressed the role performed by human agency in historical change: economic crises by themselves would not subvert capitalism;
* Gramsci was more "dialectic" than "deterministic": he tried to build a theory which recognised the autonomy, independence and importance of culture and ideology."

And in Antonio Gramsci's own words from there:
"A crisis occurs, sometimes lasting for decades. This exceptional duration means that incurable structural contradictions have revealed themselves (reached maturity) and that, despite this, the political forces which are struggling to conserve and defend the existing structure itself are making every effort to cure them, within certain limits, and to overcome them. These incessant and persistent efforts ... form the terrain of the 'conjunctural' and it is upon this terrain that the forces of opposition organise. ... Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the creation of an elite of intellectuals. A human mass does not 'distinguish' itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organising itself: and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders... But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried. ... So one could say that each one of us changes himself, modifies himself to the extent that he changes the complex relations of which he is the hub. In this sense the real philosopher is, and cannot be other than, the politician, the active man who modifies the environment, understanding by environment the ensemble of relations which each of us enters to take part in. ...."

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