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Ask Slashdot: Why Is the Power Grid So Crummy In So Many Places?

aaarrrgggh Re:Aerial or underground ? (500 comments)

Depends on the environment. In Hawaii, underground lines have approximately half the life of aerial cables in general, and one third the life of aerial cables on steel poles. From a cost, reliability, and time-to-repair perspective you can't beat aerial there.

The biggest problem in general with the sub-distribution grid though is over-subscription. You have infrastructure designed pre-air conditioning that is now carrying 2-3x it's design load in many places. Transformers don't get replaced until they fail catastrophically, insulators aren't cleaned, and the right-of-way is not properly protected from trees, cars, etc.

2 days ago
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Officer Not Charged In Michael Brown Shooting

aaarrrgggh Re:This whole thing reeks (1087 comments)

A lot of the buildings in the area date back to the 1950's, so limited sprinklers is reasonable.

2 days ago
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Officer Not Charged In Michael Brown Shooting

aaarrrgggh Re:It was an almost impossible case to prosecute (1087 comments)

If there isn't grounds for a trial, the grand jury isn't supposed to pass the buck. That is their job. It prevents an undue burden of defense.

The prosecutor is going to publish all data; it will be interesting to see what comes out. I think it is likely that the officer had a bias in the incident leading up to the shooting. However, that isn't something that can be prosecuted.

I find the claims of "hands up surrender" a little hard to believe personally, but that is my bias based on the fact that he was high, possibly had a knife, was quite large, and had just stolen something. The "surrender" pose seems suspicious. The evidence will be interesting to peruse.

2 days ago
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Google's Project Loon Can Now Launch Up To 20 Balloons Per Day, Fly 10x Longer

aaarrrgggh Re:Helium shortage, US govt effed-up (116 comments)

Yes, the government fsck'd up the helium market, but for applications like this it isn't that big of a deal. You can use hydrogen instead, although the flight time will likely be half due to leaks. For a while there was a good bit of research into using hydrogen as a deep diving gas in place of helium, but pesky safety issues got in the way.

5 days ago
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The Downside to Low Gas Prices

aaarrrgggh Re:The rest of the country needs to face reality (554 comments)

Los Angeles has made significant progress over the past two decades with mass transit; they have 87 miles of track, and the system is expanding. Unfortunately, geography doesn't help them as much as it does for the SF Bay Area (BART has 104 miles of track).

Los Angeles is a failure of metropolitan planning, especially in the late 70‘s through the 80‘s where several outlying cities popped up. This isn't sustainable, and the solutions you outline are important to making things work well. Unfortunately, it isn't that uncommon to need to drive 50 miles in a day each way given economic realities. As the manufacturing base declines it will be interesting to see what happens to the area. Me, I live close enough to work that I can ride my bike in and not own a car. Not realistic for most people though.

about two weeks ago
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Denmark Faces a Tricky Transition To 100 Percent Renewable Energy

aaarrrgggh Re:Use the money you save (488 comments)

Yes, it lasts forever. Just don't try to run it through an engine after 3 months. If you are lucky it just clogs the filters.

Regular diesel is good for 6-12 months before a polishing is needed. Polishing completely at 3-4x the frequency has its own problems.

about two weeks ago
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Facebook Testing Lithium-Ion Batteries For Backup Power

aaarrrgggh Re:The industry really needs to switch to DC power (41 comments)

I used to think the same thing, until I ran the numbers. The simplification in system architecture alone justifies the change, and once you throw in NFPA 70E distributed backup of a local dc bus quickly makes more sense.

  It doesn't work for all applications, and you need the IT staff (rather than facilities staff) to make it work, but it can simplify things tremendously.

about two weeks ago
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Facebook Testing Lithium-Ion Batteries For Backup Power

aaarrrgggh Re:Li-Ion batteries aren't good for this role (41 comments)

LiIon is great when you just want 30-60 seconds backup, and is economical there. Knowing Facebook, they likely load balance to charge the racks on off-peak energy and discharge during peak period, even if it is just a minute x15kW per rack for the trivial savings.

"Pure lead" batteries are likely more cost effective, but they are larger and heavier.

about two weeks ago
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Denmark Faces a Tricky Transition To 100 Percent Renewable Energy

aaarrrgggh Re:Use the money you save (488 comments)

Biodiesel has a very short shelf life-- 3 months max. You need to use it if you make it. The best strategy I have seen is basically having segregated tanks, with the one at 2-2.5 months being used for fleet vehicles. Aside from this being illegal in the US, it is a lot of fuel to need for the fleet of a hospital. An average hospital in California has 30-40,000 gallons of diesel; 10,000 gallons per month is a lot to use in other ways.

That said, the answer is energy storage in whatever forms are viable. The "Cold Winter Night" scenario is fully manageable between candles and fires residentially and diesel generators commercially, assuming you still have or can import 10-20% of your peak demand. The real problem is an arctic front that lingers for a week with far below normal temperatures.

about two weeks ago
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ISPs Removing Their Customers' Email Encryption

aaarrrgggh Re:Meh (245 comments)

As long as there is no reference to the password being emailed separately, it is fairly reasonable basic level of security. If someone cares, the zip password protection is weak enough that it won't keep a secret long from the boogeyman.

about two weeks ago
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Google To Lease and Refurbish Naval Air Base For Space Exploration

aaarrrgggh What a bargain! (89 comments)

$20MM per year in rent for an airfield, golf course, and of course the hangars! Google got a steal; they likely paid more for parking rights for their planes.

about two weeks ago
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Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites

aaarrrgggh Re:Same problem as Iridium (74 comments)

You might be underestimating the cost benefit ratio for wireline service. Incremental cost to provide service to a customer in the coverage area with fiber ranges from $700-10,000. For satellite you are looking at $300-500 worst-case, anywhere in the world (you are able to provide service).

The advantage of wireline (especially fiber) is you can realistically recapture your investment over 20-50 years. Satellite is more like 5-10 years.

about three weeks ago
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Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites

aaarrrgggh Re:All very nice (74 comments)

No, Irridium's failure was in that they had an extremely low bandwidth design initially, when other higher bandwidth options were becoming available for the majority of applications, at substantially lower costs. Adding to the challenge is the fact that upgrades are harder.

A new generation can be planned out as needing to eventually compete with gigabit networks. $700MM For a constellation (plus launch and ground facilities of course) might make it possible to refine the design and do faster upgrades if warranted.

about three weeks ago
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What People Want From Smart Homes

aaarrrgggh Re:Most people understand comfort (209 comments)

Weren't some of the best violin makers deaf... Or was it just the composers?

about three weeks ago
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What People Want From Smart Homes

aaarrrgggh Most people understand comfort (209 comments)

Energy efficiency is a hard concept to directly explain. One of my favorite energy savings devices is a dimmer for the front light that is 100% just before dusk, and ramps down to 60% when I am generally home, then 25% until an hour after bedtime, then off. My neighbor has a bright bulb that she just leaves on all the time. When it comes down to it, efficiency is comfort people don't underst.

about three weeks ago
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Statisticians Study Who Was Helped Most By Obamacare

aaarrrgggh Re:Anyone actually compare before and after?... (739 comments)

Many fair points.

There are plans outside of insurance that can provide 24x7 phone support from a doctor, prescription discounts, and other such values; our insurance broker actually enrolled us in them for free. This type of service needs to be more widespread. Unfortunately, most doctors visits really are a waste of time, but there is no way to avoid it if you (think you) need antibiotics. I partially long for Thailand where the pharmacist would recommend whatever they think you need (or was close to expiration/expensive, depending on ethics). Granted, I did see people die because of inadequate care, but the location wasn't going to get a hospital ever.

As for the emergency room, hospitals have worked harder to triage patients to their medical office buildings, but it is a cultural issue.

Once you set foot in a hospital campus there are substantial costs that need to be recovered. The cost for building a hospital vs medical office is about 5-10x depending on location. California is especially bad, after OSHPD got caught with their pants down in Northridge.

about a month ago
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France Investigating Mysterious Drone Activity Over 7 Nuclear Power Plant Sites

aaarrrgggh Re:Unless the plant is surrounded in a glass dome. (128 comments)

A couple well placed hand grenades can take out most Tier-4 data centers. You need a bit more than that for a (nuclear) power plant, but a 2kg payload can do some real damage.

That said, the time to repair is minimal for anything I can think of, although you might be able to degrade the long-term service life.

about a month ago
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Apple Pay Competitor CurrentC Breached

aaarrrgggh Re:WTF? (265 comments)

By not securing their mailing list, they open their "customers" to very easy phishing attacks.

about a month ago
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Steve Ballmer Gets Billion-Dollar Tax Write-Off For Being Basketball Baron

aaarrrgggh Re:Misleading- Good will is common accounting (255 comments)

For personal assets, yes. You as an individual cannot take tax advantage of buying something overpriced. Buyer's remorse is not tax deductible.

For a company, making that bad decision has other implications; your business has an inflated book value which will never hit equilibrium. Example: Computers are depreciated over 7 years. In years 1, you write off 1/7 the cost of the computer, and treat the other 6/7 as profit. Year 2, you can write off 1/7 against profits that year... same thing in year 3, provided you have profit. In year 4, you buy a replacement computer and retire the first one. Then, you can write off the remaining book value of the original computer, plus 1/7 the value of the new computer.

If you are paying 40% marginal tax rate combined state and federal, what is the net present value of your deductions assuming a discount rate of 5% and the replacement cost is equal to the original cost in dollar terms?

about a month ago
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Steve Ballmer Gets Billion-Dollar Tax Write-Off For Being Basketball Baron

aaarrrgggh Re:So the taxpayer pays for overage, got it (255 comments)

No, not really. There are a few bad exceptions (Hollywood accounting comes to mind), but on the whole the system is designed reasonably fair. Specific tax credits (not deductions) are a problem, but it is all designed around the complexities of the tax code. Simplifying the tax code isn't easy.

Simple example: my wife has her own business, and makes less than $50k from it. Almost all that money goes into her 401k. She takes a minimal salary ($20k per year, of which $17.5k goes to her 401k, $2.5k goes to payroll taxes, and $2k goes to employment taxes). Everything else goes into her 401k, and we live off of my salary. This arrangement cost $400 to set up, and $250 per year in accounting, and saves us about $20k in taxes. (More importantly though it helps her build her retirement account which was non-existent 4 years ago.)

I also know several teachers that use real-estate tax benefits to fund their retirement or kid's college, taking advantage of the tax write-offs there.

The one thing I really wish would be different is that the IRS didn't tax retained earnings in small businesses. This is economically crippling and makes for poor business decisions busy not building sufficient reserves. However, if they did this it would make abuse significantly worse as it would allow a small business to choose when and how much taxes they pay.

If you want to learn about how to minimize your tax liability, read a book or hire an expert. The book can get you 90% of the way there. The one I read was something like "tax write offs of the rich" for $20. It wasn't anything revolutionary, but it makes you think about how you leverage your money. It had some terrible advice (in the post housing bust mindset), but you need to understand the implications of your actions and not just expect a magic formula to make you wealthy/happy/healthy/whatever.

about a month ago

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