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Comment Check the stats, first, please... (Score 2) 489

In 2012, 75% of the 2 million farms in the US produced a paltry three percent of total revenue. In fact, their average annual income was less than $40k per farm, and most of that was from "non-farm" income, like subsidies, retirement income, etc. The dismal data is here.

John Deere couldn't care less about those farmers -- the money obviously lies elsewhere. And exactly where is that? In the three percent of farms (classed "large" or "very large" by the US Dept of Agriculture) that accounted for a whopping 52 percent of all production and 66.4% of agricultural revenue in the US.

So -- John Deere isn't going to worry about a bunch of hayseeds hacking their tractors -- they are not a significant revenue source now, and based on concentration trends in the US agriculture market, they are going to disappear entirely.

Marx was right about one thing -- owning the means of production (he called it "tools"; we call it hardware, now) is the key to capitalist success, and in a largely mechanized and automated industry like agriculture, that means owning the software, and through it, the hardware. John Deere has apparently grokked it rightly, as well.

Comment Re:It sounds like a death trap (Score 1) 238

After a certain height, the hanging weight of the water at the bottom causes the pressure at the top of the water column to drop below the vapor point, and all you get is near-vacuum water vapor going into the pump.

bottom? top? uh, what water column are you referring to? The water is being introduced from the pond/lake/ocean into a submerged, evacuated sphere. The water immediately outside the sphere doesn't change pressure much; the delta between the upper and lower hemispheres is in the weeds. The water simply blows through a turbine and generates electricity until the water pressure inside the sphere matches the water pressure outside the sphere. Did you even read the article?

Comment map != territory (Score 1) 169

That these researchers were able to obtain *any* information about the underlying hardware is remarkable. Models can never be completely right; the map will never, ever be the territory. Empirical adequacy is the best we can hope for. Looking at failure states to infer causal connections is exactly what I did as a sysadmin back in the day. These researchers are doing the same thing. It worked for me as a sysadmin, and it works in neuroscience as well, though with one caveat. Ethically, you can't just switch off a patient's cognitive apparatus at will and see how the patient responds; you have to wait until an automobile or industrial accident, combat wound, or disease does it for you. The map you get won't be perfect, but that doesn't invalidate the methodology. In this particular case, the researchers couldn't completely identify the target, but they did get at least one key subsystem, the clock, right. That is way cool...

Comment Here's hoping... (Score 2) 227

...they grok it rightly. SyFy can do justice to classic SF, if their Dune miniseries, which was surprisingly good, is any indicator. I remember reading twenty years ago, in alt.fan.heinlein, may it rest in peace along with the rest of USENET, that Tom Hanks had acquired the rights to both SiaSL and TMiaHM. Several current and future members of the board of the Heinlein Foundation were regulars in the group, along with Heinlein's wife Virginia, Heinlein's biographer Bill Patterson, and Heinlein's chief fan and fellow SF author Spider Robinson, who all independently confirmed the transfer of rights. The rumors never reached the level of casting a movie, though one thread was devoted to endless speculation about potential actors and actresses. I hope like hell SyFy repeats Dune's success with SiaSL; I think their decision with Dune to go with unknowns in the major roles (less money for acting => more money for writing, directing, costumes and scenery) was spot on and I hope they follow a similar decision process with SiaSL.

Comment Re:They tell you upfront it isn't going to be good (Score 1) 191

In Star Trek: Voyager, the character striving for humanity was the Doctor. Also Seven of Nine, but the Doctor was definitely the outsider. By the time the show Voyager came around, half-Klingon wasn't really news and simply made portraying the internal struggles of the character B'elanna easier (since everybody has internal struggles) when it came up. It wasn't a huge deal that she was half-anything. The Doctor's programming to resemble a human and act similar to a human, as well as Seven of Nine's Borgness led to each character's struggle to be more human.

When looking for a Spock analog in ST:V, I struggled a bit between B'Ellana, Seven-of-Nine, and the EMH, but settled on B'Ellana. Yes, the EMH was trying to understand human behavior, but Data already covered that; Pinocchio is still Pinocchio even if you are just a hologram, so I felt that the EMH would have been a bit redundant for the purposes of my argument. I needed somebody different. The issue with Seven-of-Nine was a bit more subtle. She didn't have to struggle to become human, because she was born human. Her conflict was not about becoming human, but more about recovering what she lost to the Borg. Admittedly, B'Ellana's conflict was often given in terms of losing that Klingon temper of hers, and little more, but her internal conflict was much more like Spock's struggle with his Vulcan-suppressed human half than Seven-of-Nine's allegorical rejection of her Borg implants.

Comment Good Scientist+Good Attitude != Good Bureaucrat (Score 1) 98

I like his humble, collaborative attitude, befitting a true scientist. I expect that, in practice getting there in a repeatable way will be the result of various international cooperations where different organisations will bring their own skills. Empahy and dialogue can only accelerate the process.

He is no longer a scientist. He is a bureaucrat, now, so he is faced with problems where the scientific method and its associated toolbox are sub-optimal, as are his attitude of cooperation and collaboration. They are still useful, to be sure, but he will get more use out of a couple chapters of Machiavelli's The Prince than Newton's entire Principia.

The NASA director's primary challenge is to find compromises acceptable to groups of people who have divergent goals. Congress, DoD, private industry, various scientific orgs -- all of these have claims on, and thus have influence over, NASA's ability to function. Unfortunately for the director, their goals are not the same and are often opposed.

For example, the chair of the House sub-committee that controls NASA's budget, Representative Lamar Smith (R, Texas) denies the existence of AGW and has threatened to withhold funding from NASA if NASA continues to support projects that investigate it. Smith has already dismissed science-based reports on AGW as "biased" and has set up a committee funded by and staffed by the petroleum industry to "review" all AGW data before it is presented to Congress. In a bucket, if the man controlling your funding denies the very existence of what you are trying to investigate, then no amount of cooperation and collaboration on your part is going to produce anything but incredulity and anger on his part, so your funding will evaporate.

This is just one sample of some of the problems NASA's director faces. There are others, similar in scope and nature, including the conflict among scientists and engineers over manned vs unmanned exploration, and the re-emerging conflict over extraplanetary colonization now that Elon Musk has decided to colonize Mars. None of these problems are unsolvable, but they may not be amenable to collaboration or compromise, or yield to the scientific method. They may require a different set of tools and a different mind set, ones more often to be found in career civil servants, IMHO, than in scientists or engineers. It will be interesting to see whom he appoints to various roles in his administration; I'd wager it will be people more familiar with Machiavelli than with Newton... :)

Comment Re:They tell you upfront it isn't going to be good (Score 2, Interesting) 191

What made Star Trek great was that these things were exactly treated as non-issues. Like, say, in the future, we consider it ridiculous that we even have to mention that women can command ships or that black people hold power on stations. Even TOS had an alien as the second in command (and admittedly, it was made a theme far more often than necessary).

Well said. Roddenberry's optimistic view of the future is the reason most often cited when people talk about the appeal of ST:TOS.

Trek, in its original run, was adept at tipping the sacred cows of gender, ethnic, and political identity (Uhura, Sulu/Uhura, and Chekov, respectively).

But I think you missed one sacred cow by dismissing the role Spock played in Roddenberry's attack on societal mores. Roddenberry wanted to skewer religious sensibilities as well cultural ones, so he gave one character green skin and pointed ears to make him look like a demon, and would have given him wings and a tail if it had been in the costume budget. Having a demon as a sympathetic character striving to be more human (a trope, btw, that has firmly embedded itself in the Trek franchise a la Data, Odo, and B'Ellana) Roddenberry was taking aim at the religiosity that was (and still is) a core American demographic.

The racism and religiosity that Roddenberry baited in TOS fifty years ago is still a legitimate target in the US, so it will be interesting to see which sacred cows Discovery is going to try to tip, if it remains true to its roots.

Comment Nice analysis, but... (Score 1) 219

I don't think copyright is totally bad. For example, I recently published my first novel. Without copyright law, someone else could grab my novel and start printing/selling their own copies of it. I'd wind up competing with my own novel. Then there are issues of film studios being able to take anyone's work and make movies based off of it without compensating the author at all. I'd have to spend a lot of time and money filing lawsuits to make them stop and, without copyright law, I might not be successful.

The big problem with copyright law isn't its existence. It's the length. Copyright was originally 14 years plus a one-time 14 year extension. This isn't so bad. The novel I just published would have until 2044 (assuming I renewed the copyright) to make me money. Then, the book transfers to the public domain for others to build on it. Very few works still make money after 28 years - and I'd wager most of the ones that still do (like Star Wars) partly keep making money because of new material being added.

However, over the years, copyright terms lengthened until now it's 70 years after the author's death. If I die at age 90, my novel will be protected by copyright until 2135. At that point, my youngest son (now 9) would be 128 - and likely deceased. If my youngest son had a child at 30, his child would be 98 when my copyright ran out. I don't need copyrights on my works lasting until my great-great-great grandchildren are born. That's not giving me incentive to create new works. 14 years + 14 years would be plenty.

If copyright law was reset back to 14 years plus an optional one-time 14 year extension, a lot of the problems with copyright would go away.

Nice analysis, but...

Corporations are effectively immortal, and are being imbued with the legal rights once reserved for humans. Well, at least in the US anyway, thanks to recent court cases like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby. Not sure about the rest of the planet, but I'm certain the success of American corporations in getting legislation passed to favor their interests (or prevent legislation inimical to their interests, see below) is not lost upon the business communities in Europe and Asia.

As it stands, copyright law was written long before the rise of corporations and their political influence. It was created in an environment where people had a very finite window to create and profit from a work, as your cogent analysis makes clear. If a corporation is effectively immortal, though, then this underlying assumption about finite windows is no longer valid. Existing copyright law would need to change to reflect the fact that corporate copyright holders are not constrained by the same finite windows that humans are. Lo and behold, that is exactly what is happening, via laws enacted to extend the length of time the copyright can be invoked.

You make very valid points about the copyright period, but your solution doesn't take into account the needs of corporations, who have a vested interest diametrically opposed to your solution. Any attempt to roll back the current time limits on copyright would be resisted by corporate copyright holders who would stand to lose hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars of potential profit. Corporate copyright holders would act to preserve the status quo, and would prevent any such legislation from ever seeing the light of day. Again, I can't speak for Europe and Asia, but it is certainly clear that the interests of corporate copyright holders in America are already well-represented in Congress -- that kind of legislation wouldn't even get out of committee, let alone make it to the floor for a vote.

Submission + - SPAM: iRobot plans hunter-killer version of Roomba

rocket rancher writes: Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, the developer of the Roomba domestic robot, announced late last month that his company will develop a hunter-killer drone for RISE (Robots in Service to the Environment) to combat the human-caused invasion of lionfish along the south-eastern US seaboard, which, according to the NOAA, pose a serious threat to reef environments.

The PBS article that I cited above caught my eye because I may have helped contribute to the start of this problem when I was stationed on Okinawa back in the mid-Eighties. I helped a friend and fellow diver with an import license collect these lethal little beauties for sale to tropical fish dealers in the US. We would hunt them at night by herding them, one at a time, into a mesh specimen bag and then transferring them to a larger holding bag, being extremely careful to avoid their neurotoxin-equipped spines. They are very exotic looking, thanks to their defensive spines and external gill clouds, so there was a steady demand for them by stateside aquariums and exotic fish collectors. We could make a hundred dollars capturing a couple dozen of them over the course of a few nights every couple of weeks, which nicely supplemented our paychecks.

Comment Re:Math is hard (Score 1) 145

yes, really, you poseur. Math *is not* hard, but it seems the basic arithmetic operation of approximation is very hard indeed for you. dividing by a 1000 produces about the same result as dividing by 1024, and rounding up is just more of the same dark magic, I assure you. By the way, what part of "about" is confusing you?

Comment CERN: only working elevator in a derelict building (Score 2) 205

Right now, CERN is the only working elevator in a nearly half-century old building that was built on shaky ground by architects who freely acknowledge the many failures of their design. Some of the current tenants think building a skywalk to connect the building to the even older, more dilapidated building next door will somehow fix both failing structures. Unfortunately for CERN, many tenants in the building are not reupping their lease at this point, and are looking for new digs elsewhere, though many acknowledge how much fun the elevator was. At some point the remaining tenants are going to realize that no matter how many stops this elevator makes, it will never leave the building, and it will never reveal anything other than empty corridors and closed doors.

Comment The cops grokked it rightly (Score 2) 447

Only in the legal sense that they won't be tried for murder.

In every moral sense, they had an obligation to deescalate the situation. She was not a threat to anybody but the cops, and the video proves it.

Just...no. You don't win a moral argument by trolling morality.

Certainly, they had a moral obligation to act. But morals aren't absolute. They shift based on context. The minute she leveled that shotgun, the context changed.

The video proves that the cops grokked the situation rightly. You can't deescalate a situation that is already escalated. You did notice that part, right? Maybe in your ivory tower, you can, but here in reality, you don't negotiate with somebody who is saying they are going to kill you while simultaneously bringing a weapon to bear on you.

The new context obligated the cops to preserve their own lives and the lives of bystanders (you did notice the five-year-old bystander, right?)

She was a threat to the cops, to the bystander, and a case could be made to society at large (pulling a weapon on a cop with the stated intention to kill him is, by any definition you care to invoke, sociopathic behavior.) Leaving aside the threat to society (and the host of morals that would, according to you, obligate all sorts of action) the cops acted morally by acting to preserve their lives and the life of the bystander.

Since you opened this with a troll, I'm going to close it with an ad hom. What would you have done differently in that context? I strongly suspect you have neither the training nor the temperament to react rationally (let alone morally) when threatened with deadly force. I think you would have just crapped your pants and froze.

Comment PR stunt. ULA is getting spanked by SpaceX (Score 1) 79

Context, people. SpaceX wins the PR battle, even when their vehicles faceplant, because that is *how* you get your ass off the planet and into space, and every engineer, technician, scientist and anybody with even a smidgen of Captain Kirk's spiritual DNA knows it. Hey look, ULA can launch rockets, too! It's bigger than even a V2! Remember those, kiddies? What? Ixnay on the V-2? That's not a good thing? Well damnit, what should we do/say? And no, don't keep showing me youtube videos of spectacular SpaceX failures. Those are failures, right? Nobody wants to see failures like that. They want successes like the V-2! Why do you keep rolling your eyes when I say V-2?

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