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Mining the Heavens: In Conversation With Planetary Resources' Chief Engineer

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Creepy libertarianism (80 comments)

it's not that the market doesn't exist, it's that practically none of the enabling technologies exist (for the case or the phone) and that someone lacks the capital to create them let alone even the foggiest clue what they actually are.

We know how to get to an asteroid, and we have some idea how to detect what it's made of. If you look, you'll see that these mining wannabees are working on the next few enabling technologies. The goal is to reduce one of the nastiest barriers to exploration and development of space for humans: the high cost of breathing, eating, and drinking. I'm glad we have machines like Curiosity that don't need to breathe, eat, or drink, but some day I'd like to go out there myself. A space civilization that gets its air, water, and food from Earth will never be independent (no matter what your political inclination) and is unlikely to even be viable, unless you count a few millionaire tourists as a civilization.

In its way, this is like the long-forgotten effort to invent and produce clothing, which made it possibly for humans to spread outside of the tropics.

about 10 months ago
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Golden Spike Working On Private Moon Flights

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Best of luck to them (121 comments)

... some of whom have several ex-wives they'd like to send far, far away.

about a year ago
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Huge Geoengineering Project Violates UN Rules

SixAndFiftyThree Re:So what happens... (319 comments)

As Freeman Dyson points out it's very easy to over-use the "do no harm" argument. Given the way ocean waters mix and move over time, I tend to doubt that anything smaller in scale would give us data, and indeed this may not. I'm sad to say that real scientists will now feel pressure either to refrain from studying this "natural experiment" or to report only the negative effects (of which there probably will be one or two) and play down the positive.

about a year ago
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How We'll Get To 54.5 Mpg By 2025

SixAndFiftyThree arithmetic (717 comments)

The question that makes most of the others irrelevant is, what are they averaging? Miles per gallon, or gallons per mile? Let me explain.

Averaging mpg, if they sell five 10 mpg vehicles and five 100 mpg vehicles, then (10+100)/2=55 mpg and they can say they're ahead of the average. But driving each of those vehicles 100 miles will consume 55 gallons (for an average of 0.055 gpm that equates to about 18 mpg), whereas driving ten 55 mpg vehicles 100 miles will consume 1000/55=18.18... gallons. Biiiiiiiig difference.

Averaging gpm, well, 54.5 mpg is about 0.01835 gpm, and a company that sells just one vehicle getting 0.1 gpm will have to sell roughly ten vehicles at 0.01gpm to get an average of, hmm, 0.01818... gpm and beat the average. If you drove each of those cars 100 miles, you would get roughly the same total consumption as driving eleven cars that got 0.01835 gpm.

I'm fairly sure I know which averaging method the US is using.

about a year and a half ago
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Virgin Galactic's Quiet News: Virgin Now Owns The SpaceShip Company

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Interesting questions (112 comments)

Note that XCOR (disclosure: I own shares in it) is also developing a suborbital craft and plans to make it available for science missions, at prices substantially lower than what scientists now pay for expendable rockets. The kind of science you can do with a few minutes up around 100km is not as glamourous as the Hubble, but still useful. NASA will pay for some of it: https://flightopportunities.nasa.gov/platforms/ in fact, NASA will even pay for science missions aboard SpaceShip Two.

about a year and a half ago
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California's Unspoken Health Problem: Brain Parasites

SixAndFiftyThree Re:The Bigger Story (313 comments)

Naw, it was just one of Jerry Brown's campaign speeches from the 1970s that Ms. Alvarez had somehow never forgotten. Let this be a warning to everyone who pays too much attention to politicians.

Fortunately for her, Jerry Brown's speeches rarely lodge in the heart or liver.

about a year and a half ago
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Immigrants Crucial To Innovation

SixAndFiftyThree Re:still... (463 comments)

... except for the people who vote for the Congresscritters who pass laws that prevent all but a tiny amount of legal immigration (other than by people who already have family ties in the US).

Given that those laws are actually on the books, that must be a hefty number of voters.

about 2 years ago
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Belief In Hell Predicts a Country's Crime Rates Better Than Other Factors

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Savvy study author ... (471 comments)

Wall Street should have just about no crime, then.

about 2 years ago
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Young Listeners Opt For Streaming Over Owning

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Ownership may fade in the short term (390 comments)

Before deciding that a song is worth owning, I want to hear it, in full, several times. Streaming services like psonar.com (no, I don't work for them) let me do that easily and cheaply. I've wasted far more money on music that turned out not to be worth owning than I shall spend in several years' worth of streaming. What's not to like?

about 2 years ago
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NASA and FAA Team To Streamline, Regulate Commercial Space Access

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Query (57 comments)

Actually the existing pioneers, including Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR, and some others of whom you (should) have heard, are already working with the FAA and they report that the experience has not been too painful. I can't help worrying when NASA wants to get in on the act, though. NASA's main product is paper, with a few space vehicles as unintentional by-products, and they won't want to disappoint anyone ....

about 2 years ago
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Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree?

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Tutoring not as lucrative as you think... (416 comments)

Then there are pension benefits. As in: you actually have a real pension. Usually they are defined benefit, meaning you will know how much you are going to get when you retire.

Unless the aforementioned lousy administrators have underfunded the pension plan. Which roughly everyone has done.

+1 for teaching at private schools. The school where my kids go has recently hired a part-time math specialist, and I've been filling in myself, volunteering one lesson a week. Any discipline problems, I just sic my elder boy on them :-)

about 2 years ago
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Programming — Now Starting In Elementary School

SixAndFiftyThree Re:What do you mean, "now" starting? (162 comments)

Hmm, it seems that /.ers don't have children (even the ones who can remember back to the '80s). In the school where my kids go, a local robotics nerd is teaching programming to grades 3 and onwards using Scratch and they're loving it. Yes, Scratch has a colourful GUI for junior programmers and doesn't let you edit your code in vi, but it has loops, objects, methods, variables, and most of the constructs that older programmers use.

Now if I could only get my 6th grader to stop fixing bugs in his maze and start watching his TV like he's supposed to ....

about 2 years ago
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Growing Evidence of Football Causing Brain Damage

SixAndFiftyThree Re:The 100 Yard War what Europeans call it (684 comments)

I'm not from Europe, I'm from the country that invented rugby :-) and I played it as a kid.

First, in rugby you're not allowed to run into any player who isn't carrying the ball, which cut down the number of impacts relative to American football.

Secondly, we were trained to take down an opposing player with our shoulders and arms (sweep his knees out form under him) in the run-and-strike part of the game. Hitting with your head, or hitting his head, was so obviously a bad idea that I don't think it was even mentioned.

Third, the wrestling part of the game (the "scrum") begins with players already in contact, so there's no impact -- and the contact is shoulder-to-shoulder. This contrasts vividly with the American face-off where players seem to start about a yard apart, so the first thing they do is crash into each other.

Fourth, as my mother used to say, "[soccer] is a gentle game for rough people, rugby is a rough game for gentle people."

about 2 years ago
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Bringing Auto-Graders To Student Essays

SixAndFiftyThree Re:How is that cheaper than hiring more teachers? (227 comments)

How about we get kids who want to be able to write a piece of English that explains something, and let them review each others' work while the algorithm helps them with punctuation and spelling. The teacher can review a semi-finished product from each group of, say, four kids.

How do we motivate the little monsters? Once kids have been shown a piece of bad writing and asked to make sense of it, then a day or two later been shown a piece of good writing, they'll be merciless critics, and other kids may listen better to their peers than to a teacher who doesn't really have time to talk to them anyway. We might even let them take the work home and show it to their parents, who could provide feedback. Bottom line: school is a place to learn how to do things well, not a place to be told how badly you do them.

To prevent the obvious abuses, and to make some room to assess individual contributions, rotate the kinds through different combinations of groups. Other refinements are left as an exercise to the reader.

about 2 years ago
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Nomad Planets: Stepping Stones To Interstellar Space?

SixAndFiftyThree Re:You want to stop at this dwarf star? (244 comments)

They're not way stations; they're destinations, at least for a few decades. If there are 100,000 of them per star, then they're distributed maybe a tenth of a light year apart, so that primitive sub-relativistic vehicles (only a hundred times as fast as what we now have) can get to them within a human lifetime. The first visitor will be an automated probe, which will assay a planetoid for useful supplies and leave a beacon to guide future ships in. Later, a bigger robot homes on the beacon, mines the supplies, and does two things:

  1. sets up a fusion reactor and starts growing spinach
  2. fuels up a handful of automated probes and launches them towards the next few planetoids

A century or so later, humans who are tired of the Eight Worlds will simply move to a handy planetoid. With almost any non-magical technology, travelling a tenth of a LY is cheaper than travelling to another star with a livable planet. The near-certainty of not meeting intelligent aliens will be, to some of them, an added plus. But maybe they'll get a surprise :-)

more than 2 years ago
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U.S. Navy Receives First Industry Built Railgun Prototype

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Comments at TFA (277 comments)

The real problem is that the payload would reach 8km/s speed before leaving the atmosphere. Think frictional heating. Think sonic boom. Think shock waves hammering the rail or the structure that supports it. Sure you can embed the whole thing in the ground, then it'll be strong enough, but your payload will come out doing 8km/s horizontally, not very useful.

Also think that turning a railgun that can do 2km/s into one that can do 8km/s may not be any easier than taking my car and turning it into one that can go four times as fast.

For an alternative, look up "laser launch" on a good search engine. It's still rocket propulsion, but with potential for significantly better specific impulse.

more than 2 years ago
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History Repeats Itself: KDP Select Is Amazon.com's 'Payback For Playback'

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Why destroyed? (70 comments)

Darn it, I cheerfully would have paid per playback out of my own money, and still might do so, at certain price points. If I can listen to the 30sec sample for free, then it might make sense to listen to the entire song for oh, a dime, and then either decide to buy a copy, or to bookmark it and see if I still remember it a week later. No doubt there's a reason why no-one is doing this, but it escapes me.

more than 2 years ago
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MIT Working On Industrial-Scale Graphene Printing Press

SixAndFiftyThree Re:Space elevator (60 comments)

Sails have to be rigid? Have you looked at a sailing boat lately?

Reflectivity would double the thrust over simply absorbing the photons, but any metal coating except maybe lithium or beryllium would more than double the mass, right? So I'll take naked graphene, with some kind of rip-stop reinforcement of course.

more than 2 years ago

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