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If Tesla Can Run Its Gigafactory On 100% Renewables, Why Can't Others?

DoctorNathaniel It's not horseshit. It's happening. (444 comments)

I teach physics. The most depressing part of my job is teaching a general-education class where I have to explain global warming.

Scientists don't have a private agenda. We would LOVE to be wrong about this, but:
- Temperatures are going up worldwide
- Global temperatures are historically very well correlated to CO2 concentrations
- CO2 concentrations have a straightforward and well-understood effect on infrared light produced by
earth's blackbody radiation
- Even small changes to global temperature will create big changes to local climates
- We can stop this, but only if radical action is taken right now
so
- We're all fucked.

This is not the time for the debate about whether the effect is real. This is the time for debate about just how MUCH we should be panicking. We're in the deep shit here. We're talking about large proportions of humanity not having enough food to eat. The resulting warfare and hardship will be devastating.

about 2 months ago
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Scientists Calculate Most Precise Measurement of Electron's Mass

DoctorNathaniel Yeah, bad title. (59 comments)

You don't 'calculate' a measurement. Measurements often require some mathematics, but it's the incorrect verb. Calculations are theoretical.

about 9 months ago
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Killing Net Neutrality Could Be Good For You

DoctorNathaniel Not enough net capacity? Build more! (361 comments)

The argument that the poor carriers are being bombarded by all this data (when our endpoint bandwidth is much less than other places in the world) is completely absurd. It's not because the internet wasn't "designed" for video, it's because competition hasn't spurred more development by the carriers. They've been living on capital rents.

This piece is naive in the extreme: it assumes implicitly that the only players are major content providers, carriers, and "consumers", and never speakers, telecoms, and citizens.

about 9 months ago
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The College-Loan Scandal

DoctorNathaniel Re:at some point... (827 comments)

A couple of quick points..
- Tuition has gone up a LOT even since 2007.
- There are far fewer jobs to get, and those jobs are less flexible (since the employment situation means that employers can be pickier about people they take).
- There are fewer student jobs, because research funding is tighter (thanks, sequester!)
- Not all students have the ability to manage both a job and study. Just because you did it doesn't mean everyone can, and just because a student isn't brilliant doesn't mean they don't deserve an education.
- "Young white American male" has all sorts of implied privilege that not everyone has.
- Do we really want this to be the challenge?

about a year ago
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A Case For a Software Testing Undergrad Major

DoctorNathaniel Education is not for job skills (220 comments)

The primary purpose of higher education is to develop individuals who are capable problem solvers, who are capable of understanding complex ideas, and who have a broad base of knowledge for the context of those ideas. We need such individuals to have a thriving society and robust democracy. Few people seem to realize this.

Developing skill sets for the workplace is a decidedly secondary task of higher education. This isn't unimportant, but it isn't the primary purpose. This is why we don't have classes in plumbing or home finance, although those subjects could easily be taught at a university. Purely technical skills are valuable, but only to the degree to which they are generally applicable to a wide field.

about a year and a half ago
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Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person

DoctorNathaniel No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (489 comments)

No. This is what we as young academics have been told for twenty years: the Boomers and pre-Boomers are about to retire, and there will be a lot of jobs soon.

The reality is that no, there is no large spike of retirements coming down the pipe, and even if there were, it does not imply there are job openings. Universities rely on large classes, heavy teaching loads, and especially adjuncts / sessionals.

Moreover, it is well-known that in the next decade or so, there will be a slump in the number of students, due to simple demographics. So, fewer, weaker students, and fewer jobs per student.

The OP is not just bitter: this is the honest truth about academia right now. And it includes the sciences and professional studies, too.

about a year and a half ago
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Neutrino-Powered Financial Trading In Our Future?

DoctorNathaniel Re:Modulation (275 comments)

Actually, that's easy, and has been done: http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.2847

(Full disclosure: I'm an author on that paper)

Modulation (strictly speaking) isn't required. To make the system work, you only need semi-reliable one-bit fast communication, and slow communication otherwise. On the slow channel:
"I'll be ready to send a neutrino pulse at 12:00:00.000000"
"Send me a neutrino bunch at 12:00:00.000000 if it would be profitable to buy "
Then the beamline simply pulses or doesn't-pulse the beam at that time, depending on the financial data of that instant. It's basically a matter of firing or not-firing the extraction kicker magnet that pulls the protons onto the target that makes neutrinos.

Of course, the article under discussion about financial communication is a complete parody, obviously written to suck in gullible financial types. It doesn't actually lie - the system could be made to work, no problem - it just conveniently discusses only the cost of the receiving unit, not the 'sending' unit. The sending unit costs rather a lot more, which isn't mentioned in the article, and can't be aimed.

Basically, it's a cynical and amusing attempt for the neutrino physicists to try to get the bankers to buy us the beamline we want for purely scientific purposes. A more nobel cause cannot be imagined. ;)

more than 2 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Schools Connected?

DoctorNathaniel Really? Then do it. (568 comments)

This sort of comment is so arrogant, I have to call foul.

Are you an educator? Then why haven't you done this yourself? Why isn't education revolutionized as we speak?
Are you actually ignorant about how to teach? Then maybe you should learn about it before proclaiming yourself an expert.

Teaching is fundamentally about one and only one interaction: a teaching talking with a student. Notice the word "with": although some teaching can happen with one-way transmission, it's not effective. Humans learn through iterative processes of getting challenged, making mistakes, getting feedback, changing, improving, perfecting. This happens at every stage, even in the course of a five minute lesson or lecture.

Even when I am teaching college students, in a lecture setting, there is a LOT of two-way communication. I can tell when they don't get things. I can ask them questions to see how fast they respond. I can see them nod or frown. I can see them stare at their laps, smiling (which means they are texting instead of thinking). I can walk between them and look over their shoulders. They can ask questions. They can see my enthusiasm. They can participate in groups or singly.

Teaching is about conversation. Although there are ways of having meaningful conversation with 2,5, 10, even 20 people, the effectiveness of that conversation drops as the group sizes get larger, until you are in the 200 person lecture hall and the conversation becomes almost unidirectional.

more than 2 years ago
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Scientists Say People Aren't Smart Enough For Democracy To Flourish

DoctorNathaniel "Scientists Say" (1276 comments)

Speaking as a scientist, whenever you see an article refer to "scientists" without any attribution, the best policy is to ignore it. Credit the specific person or group. "Scientists" are not a cohesive whole who all agree on everything, and this statement is almost assuredly not consensus opinion.

As to the content:
"Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
--Winston Churchill

more than 2 years ago
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Is Santorum's "Google Problem" a Google Problem?

DoctorNathaniel Agreed. Search engines show what people think. (775 comments)

At least, that's the basic idea behind both Google and other engines: show results that aggregate the opinions or outlook of many people. Authoritative links are ones which many people use, useless links are one that no one uses.

The whole thing with Santorum is that, actually, there is a very large segment of people that despise what he stands for. This group is at least competing with (if not more powerful than) the population of people that think he's a sane politician worth listening to.

The disconnect here is mass media. According to the rules they have adopted, candidates are to be taken seriously when they hit a certain (small) proportion of support, at least if they are right-wing candidates, and open mockery or confrontation are simply not done. Hence, Santorum is a "real candidate" and shouldn't have this level of opposition.

But that's not reality. I agree: a disclaimer would implicitly say that the voice of the people is political... which is rather obvious and useless, since it's always true.

more than 2 years ago
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Why Do So Many College Science Majors Drop Out?

DoctorNathaniel Re:High school doesn't prepare you for college (841 comments)

This is indeed the problem I see teaching introductory physics at a small college: students are smart, students are hard-working, but they don't have either the technical or study skills they need.

If there were better prepared in STEM fields, they wouldn't have as far to catch up in their first year, and so the "death march" would be substantially easier.

If they were better prepared to be challenged, to accept intellectual problems of much larger magnitude than they have seen before, then they would also be OK. They would know how use their hard work instead of revving in neutral, madly reading and re-reading textbooks they don't understand.

There are lots of things we can do to teach better, but all of those things require time, in class and out. We can't just 'make time' to do them: that would leave an undergraduate student without a complete education. (For example: we could cover only half of the topics on the MCAT, so future doctors would need to take twice as long learning science requirements, delaying their medical school by years and driving up their debt load.)

about 3 years ago
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Apple Finally Removes DigiNotar Certs In Safari

DoctorNathaniel Pointless Apple-bashing (149 comments)

So, it took them 1 week to come out with an update to patch their browser? That doesn't seem an egregious delay to me. I haven't yet patched any of my other browsers yet. I'd be surprised if most users patch within the week of bugfix releases anyway.

And if I understand it, this "security hole" is basically that you won't get bad-certificate warnings if you visit certain fraudulent sites... which isn't likely to happen unless you're clicking links in phishing emails.

This hyperbole about apple being slow seems like hot air to me.

more than 3 years ago
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Easily Distracted People May Have 'Too Much Brain'

DoctorNathaniel Looks like maybe bad science (246 comments)

Apparently my cheap-ass university doesn't have download rights to the original article in Neuroscience, but my guess is that the weak point is in the paper-and-pencil questionarre. The problem is that they aren't asking people how often they get distracted... they're asking people how often they _remember_ getting distracted.

An equally valid hypothesis is that big-brained people remember getting distracted more than small-brained people.

Again, I haven't RTFA so maybe they deal with it. They talk about inheritability of the 'distraction' scores, but that just means that it's something either genetic or social. In fact, there could instead be a correlation between 'big brained' and 'more honest'.

more than 3 years ago
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Is Science Just a Matter of Faith?

DoctorNathaniel No. Empiricism does not require understanding. (1486 comments)

The only power of theoretical models is in making predictions. If I can can consistently predict the outcome of a set of experiments, you can trust that my theories are not wrong. You can never prove a theory right, of course. But you can throw so many tests at it that you can be sure that it's not completely wrong - and any contradictory evidence that comes forward will only modify your theory, not expunge it.

You don't have to understand wave mechanics to believe that it works. You can ask a theorist to predict what happens when you put two slits in front of a laser. They make a prediction, and then you see it. You don't even need to see it yourself. You can trust people whose job it is to look at things, just as you trust that books and newspapers haven't invented whole continents out of fantasy.

We can make transistors. We can make them very well. This shows we understand the principles of transistor-making, which we call quantum mechanics.

This is either stupid or a troll - yet another attempt to build a false equivalency between proven methods of finding out the truth, and unproven magical thinking.

more than 3 years ago
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Large, Slow Airships Could Move Buildings

DoctorNathaniel Too bad we'll be out of helium (184 comments)

Unless you want to wait a few millennia for alpha decay to replenish our supply, there simply won't be anything like this... at least not for more than a few years. We are foolishly squandering our remaining supply.

http://www.livescience.com/technology/helium-reserve-shortage-expensive-party-balloons-100823.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Livesciencecom+(LiveScience.com+Science+Headline+Feed)

more than 4 years ago
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Oscilloscopes For Modern Engineers?

DoctorNathaniel Tek 1012B (337 comments)

I'm rather fond of the low-end Tek scopes. The LCD screen is a little slow, and there's only 2 channels, but these are not huge limitations for most basic work. I use these teaching physics and intro electronics to undergraduates - they're easy to use, lightweight, and can store data through USB or pen drives. 100 MHz for about $1200, which is OK for general use.

more than 4 years ago
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Tunneling Under the Great Firewall?

DoctorNathaniel Re:Is ssh blocked? (403 comments)

I have done this from Beijing and it worked the week I was there.

FoxyProxy is a nice add-on to use for this, since it allows you to either whitelist specific sites for use through the proxy, or to simply switch back and forth to the proxy as you need.

more than 4 years ago
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Quant AI Picks Stocks Better Than Humans

DoctorNathaniel Microtax on all stock sales. (446 comments)

There's already a better method, which doesn't kill liquidity (as some have suggested below)... simply put a microtax on all stock transactions of less than a percent.

Even this super-AI is going to make mistakes - it's profit margin is not likely to be large on the _average_ transaction, to microtaxes like this will keep this sort of activity to a minimum. Lots of people have suggested such a tax.
http://thehill.com/homenews/house/56789-afl-cio-dems-push-new-wall-street-tax

Basically: this sort of transaction does NOTHING for the economy except leech money from the people that actually produce things. Wall Street, as a whole, has a purpose: allocation of capital to build the economy. But there's no reason that people working on Wall Street should make more money than other facilitators or utiilities of our system, like payroll accountants or garbage collectors. The only reason they do is because we let them.

more than 4 years ago
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Facebook Crawler Speaks Back

DoctorNathaniel But that can be fixed (317 comments)

The Supreme Court has held for a very long time now that the right to free speech means the right to anonymous speech, especially political speech.

Yes.. for people. But not necessarily for organizations.

Of course, making such a distinction will require reversing a very old (and recently reinforced) precedent in US law, where organizations have personhood. Probably requiring an amendment. So it won't happen.

more than 4 years ago
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Pen vs. Keyboard vs. Touch vs. Everything Else

DoctorNathaniel You CAN grep dead trees (203 comments)

Agg
Seriously? Keep your notes in a book or some other time-ordered form. Pretty fast to flip through, find things before and after the stuff in question. Basic indexing (putting a two-letter abbreviation at the top of each page by topic) makes it even easier.

The human eye is remarkably good at picking out visual subject material. If I've read a pure-text book, I can usually flip to a section I remember faster than using the index. Pure computer-based searches are useful mainly in contexts where you _haven't_ read the source material before, but that's not the application we're discussing here.

more than 3 years ago

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