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Science By Democracy Doesn't Work

jfengel Re:Outcome of the vote (435 comments)

How the f*** does Inhofe get to vote "yes" on this, when he's said "it's a hoax" loudly and repeatedly in the past? He's still the chair of the Environment committee. Is there any chance that this change of heart at least going to keep him from railroading scientists?

3 days ago
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Science By Democracy Doesn't Work

jfengel Re:So what was the result?? (435 comments)

We don't really get to ask that question. It's subsumed by the existing question about whether we're contributing significantly. Since the answer turned out to be "no", there's no point in asking the next question.

Mind you, "no" is a stupid answer, but that's the point. There's no way to discuss the right question, because we're still too busy being stupid about the wrong question.

3 days ago
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Doomsday Clock Could Move

jfengel Re:After moot retired from 4chan... (144 comments)

I hadn't realized it had gotten as high as 17. The number is arbitrary, of course, at this point it's tricky to remember that decade between the START treaty and 9/11 where we genuinely didn't expect the world to come crashing down on our heads.

3 days ago
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Google Thinks the Insurance Industry May Be Ripe For Disruption

jfengel Re:Why not self-insure? (237 comments)

Interesting. I'm surprised it's so low, since it's considerably less than the likely liability from a single accident.

Perhaps it's because, as the AC sibling post says, you don't get the money back at the end, and they pay claims out of the pot of money they've collected. Making them effectively your insurer, with one massive up-front payment. (That web page does distinguish it from self-insurance, which they do only for fleets.)

4 days ago
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Google Thinks the Insurance Industry May Be Ripe For Disruption

jfengel Re:Why not self-insure? (237 comments)

I'm not sure how many people would be helped by that. You'd probably need to guarantee at least half a million dollars in your retirement account; even those who take their retirement seriously (a depressingly small fraction, according to polls) don't get that until well advanced in their careers.

And those who take their retirement seriously should not be risking their entire retirement account on this risk. There's a decent chance that if they're in an accident, they too will need medical care and lose work, and they'd be drawing down precisely the account they'd be depending on.

There are certainly some people who can afford to self-insure, but I suspect that they're about the same people who are in the SEC's class of accredited investors, who are capable of taking big risks with their money without becoming destitute if they fail. Not quite the 1%, but perhaps the 5%. And for them, insurance is already a very small percentage of their expenses.

5 days ago
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The 'Radio Network of Things' Can Cut Electric Bills (Video)

jfengel Re:Silly assumptions. (172 comments)

It sounds as if the real win would be to build functionality into the device. Many refrigerators use the freezer as a cold store. The objects inside are frozen, and there's more latitude to lower the temperature still more without further damage as long as it remains frozen.

So you could lower the setpoint when electricity is cheap, then use that to drive the refrigerator when electricity is expensive.

I don't know if this is feasible or cost-effective; it would require more electronics (my fridge is dumb) and more engineering.

about a week ago
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The 'Radio Network of Things' Can Cut Electric Bills (Video)

jfengel Re:Silly assumptions. (172 comments)

Is there really that much room in the deadband on a refrigerator that we can save significant amounts of electricity? We're talking about food spoilage here; letting the food get above 40F can be potentially lethal.

I'm not an engineer, but I am a cook, and we are extremely careful about the amount of time food spends in the danger zones. We're cautious, to be sure, but we have to consider the case of the most-susceptible people. I don't know how much room there is to slacken the parameters, and I'm sure there's some, but I'd need to see some numbers to know if the risks we're running are worth the savings we'd get. A fridge costs something like $150 per year to run, which is significant, but you'd need to demonstrate that we can save a hefty percentage of that to make it worth messing with.

about two weeks ago
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NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

jfengel Re:call me skeptical (357 comments)

That graph is plotting months, rather than years. Those are monthly spikes rather than yearly ones. (Spikes in the differential over the long-term average for that month, so you don't end up seeing the seasonal swings.) The number being discussed in the article is the global mean temperature for the entire year. Other years had higher spikes but this past one had the highest yearly mean.

about two weeks ago
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Elon Musk Plans To Build Hyperloop Test Track

jfengel Re:"plenty of flat land to go around (165 comments)

Thanks for the analysis, but why would it be lighter than a conventional train?

You compare it to the monorail, but at the least it's going to have to support the tube plus the train cars itself. The tube is static rather than dynamic load, which will make things a bit easier, but it still seems like the pillars will have to be a good deal stronger than the ones in the picture. Is it simply that new materials and not having to share tracks with existing trains allow for different, lighter construction? Or the fact that it's passengers and not cargo?

I'm all for Elon Musk, and he's succeeded so often that I'm going to assume he hasn't overlooked the obvious. (I even own a bit of Tesla stock.) But I'm concerned that it might be too optimistic, and that when reality kicks in it will lose the large advantage that's needed to overcome the entrenched resistance.

about two weeks ago
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Ad Company Using Verizon Tracking Header To Recreate Deleted Cookies

jfengel Re:Que calls for net neutrality... (70 comments)

And even if it were to eventually... it certainly isn't right now. Your privacy has been invaded for weeks or months. That is a fait accompli; no market reaction can undo that.

That's the thing I find baffling about the libertarian fantasists. Even if in some kind of long-term it were to eliminate some kind of abuse, it can't reverse the effects of that abuse. Pollutants stay in the environment. People injured by dangerous products remain injured. Patients who die from counterfeit medicines stay dead. You can't sue your way whole.

There are many other reasons why the market isn't nearly as frictionless as libertarian theorists like to imagine. But right here, in this case, we've got an example: you will never regain the privacy that you lost because of this. Even if you switch providers, and that forces them to change the policy, it won't return the privacy you've already lost. Markets simply aren't frictionless, and that friction makes the notion that "the market fixes everything" just plain false.

That's not to say we need infinite regulations on everything. The right level of regulation is difficult and complex, and has to be worked out as a compromise. I'm just pointing out that "oh, it'll all be OK, we never need to do anything at all" isn't a helpful contribution to that compromise.

about two weeks ago
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Uber Suspends Australian Transport Inspector Accounts To Block Stings

jfengel Re:poor summary (299 comments)

I thought the idea of Uber wasn't to be cheaper, but more convenient. They have more drivers out working than the taxis, since it's a part-time job rather than a full-time job, and can attract drivers at surge times with higher fees.

According to http://www.businessinsider.com..., a taxi is actually cheaper than Uber in New York, and about even after tipping. But the real win is not having to hail a cab or deal with the unreliable dispatching service. They use GPS more effectively to provide better feedback. They're also a single service, rather than dozens of cab companies.

I suspect that the cabs could provide much better service by incorporating part of Uber's business model. It's a bit disturbing to me that they seem to want to win based primarily on requiring a regulation limiting the number of cars. Not that Uber is playing nicely, at least not from what I read on teh intarwebz, and if so I'd be happy to see them beaten out by somebody who will be less predatory.

about two weeks ago
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Bitcoin Volatility Puts Miners Under Pressure

jfengel Re:Hmmm ... (290 comments)

The volatility of bitcoins is just proof that you shouldn't horde them, there's no reason to do that.

And yet people go out of their way to mine them. That's why I find bitcoins so distasteful. If they were nothing more than an algorithm for cryptographically-encrypted checking accounts, denominated in the same currency I'd always been using, I'd be all for it.

Instead, it not only creates its own currency, but proceeds to hand it out for (effectively) free to early adopters, and others for the value of devoting computers and electricity to it. The fans generally have a personal interest in it, not just to improve the transfer of value but to bolster the currency they invented for the purpose. They're seeking the currency for its own value, not entirely dissimilar to hoarding it, and inventing that value in the process.

Like I said, if somebody were to craft their own blockchain and use it solely as a transfer medium, that would indeed be extremely useful. Our current transfer system is abominable. There are probably even ways to use it as a single-currency to reduce international fees. But the idea of having them sell it to me, having put in no significant work for the value they've supposedly created, is of no interest to me.

about two weeks ago
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How Bitcoin Could Be Key To Online Voting

jfengel Re:Secret Ballot? (480 comments)

Oddly, some people don't seem to want their representatives to be smarter than they are. They want their representatives to be approachable and more like them. I also see a lot of people (including in this thread) campaigning for direct democracy.

Representation is partly about removing the day-to-day swing of the masses; the US legislature is deliberately divided between a house that is replaced very frequently and one that is more aloof. But I think it's also about the pragmatic effect of composing legislation. Legislation is never really binary; it's full of compromises and details. It would be difficult to assemble a majority coalition around any one bill rather than thousands of variants.

At the very least, that means you end up with parties. And it's difficult to conceive of how you'd do the negotiations with a full country-sized electorate. There are ways to do it; ballot propositions are really laws done by a direct majority. But it often turns out badly, and few really understand what they're voting on.

about two weeks ago
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How Bitcoin Could Be Key To Online Voting

jfengel Re:Secret Ballot? (480 comments)

No vote is better than an ill-informed / non-informed vote.

Ya know, I'm not so sure about that. The whole premise of democracy is that we are, collectively, smarter than any of us individually. Somehow, the average of the guesses comes out as closer to the truth than any of the guesses. Uninformed voters on one side of the issue cancel out uninformed voters on the other side of the issue.

There's a lot of reason to be dubious about that, but to be frank, the vast majority of voters are very uninformed about practically every issue. Any significant topic requires years or decades of study to be really expert on. And most voters will go in with nothing more than they've read in the newspaper, or worse, on TV. Take any topic you actually know in detail; do you think that any reporter has ever understood it? Here on Slashdot we regularly complain about how science and technology are misrepresented and misunderstood. Do you really think that reporting on energy issues, the economy, or foreign affairs is any better?

I'm always glad for people to want to know more, but practically everybody goes into the voting booth with a massive case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome, convinced that they know the topic far better than they actually do. The whole point of democracy is to try to take that into account. Usually, we're actually voting for people to represent us, and they often know it a bit better than we do (or at least, they have advisers who do), but in the end we're really just hoping that the representative on the side of the truth will have slightly more followers than the representative who has it wrong. Democracy is designed to expose a slight bias towards reality, even if few of the individuals involved can actually justify that bias.

I'd love to live in a meritocracy where only the best experts are making decisions... but who's going to pick those experts? I'd be happy if it were me, but I bet you wouldn't be. Democracy is the closest thing I've ever seen to a fair way to pick. And if so, it only works because everybody gets to take their best guess. I suspect that the ones who know enough to know that they don't know very much are better qualified to take their guess than those who don't even know that they don't know.

Especially when you've got a news media which gets its best viewership by telling them how smart they are and that all of the smart people agree with them. They're the most dangerous voters of them all, and they vote in droves. And I can't think of any fair way to keep them out of the polls. So everybody might as well go out and vote.

about two weeks ago
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Bill Would Ban Paid Prioritization By ISPs

jfengel Re:Democrats don't want this to pass (216 comments)

Obama, by himself, can't do anything legislatively. As I explained above, the Democrats couldn't do anything by themselves except during a brief period in 2009, during which time they managed to produce one epoch-making piece of legislation.

It's true that Democrats don't work well together, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. The Democratic party represents a number of different points of view. The health care bill that we did get is driven by the fact that a number of Democrats are genuinely uncomfortable with single-payer legislation. You can call that "in the pockets of big business" but they were genuinely reflecting their constituents desires (as demonstrated by the fact that most of them got creamed anyway by accusations of "soshulizm" in the next election). The Democrats' big-tent mentality is what wins them the Presidency; Republican insistence on ideology is keeping them from scoring a national majority.

The Republicans have been seen as highly effective, but only in banding together as the "party of no". You're going to see them produce little to no real legislation over the next two years, unless they radically change. The few positive ideas they have are not broadly acceptable (lowering taxes on the wealthy, eliminating social safety nets). You'll notice that they haven't been touting any alternative to the ACA, and if they try to repeal without replacing they'll find that a lot of people like actual provisions of the act. (The one they don't like is the one that pays for it, and I'd be tickled to see them eliminate *just* the coverage requirement, which would be hilarious.)

Now the Democrats get to spend two years filibustering everything the Republicans try to do (primarily eliminating environmental and safety regulations) and look more or less unified in the process. They still won't look unified, because they've got more than enough votes for the filibuster, which means that some Senators who imagine their seats are vulnerable will cross lines, but they'll be there when they need to be. And that's as the Democrats come into what should be a strong 2016, as they take back some seats that they shouldn't have lost in the 2010 wave election (just as the Republicans last year took back some seats they shouldn't have lost in 2008).

Which returns us to a Democratic Senate, probably a Democratic President, and probably a Republican House come 2017. At which point the Democrats will again fail to push a liberal agenda because they're not really a liberal party, and haven't been for a very long time. They're the party of everybody driven away by the batshit right-wing agenda of the Republicans.

about two weeks ago
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Unbundling Cable TV: Be Careful What You Wish For

jfengel Re:And? (448 comments)

But there's nothing stopping the cable company from charging much higher prices for the channels they know are the most popular

Well... there is the competition from the other TV suppliers, who will try to undercut them in order to get the business for a slightly reduced profit margin.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sniff. I kill me.

No, seriously... I don't expect that this is going to dramatically cut bills on average. Some people will pay less; some will pay more. The total amount of money that consumers are willing to spend on their TV won't change, and this doesn't alter either the supply or the demand.

The cable and satellite companies do compete with each other, a little. Customers who do watch a lot of channels are going to want to continue their package deals, and won't want to pay higher prices. The customers who want individual channels will probably find that that prices are pretty high, and while they can threaten to switch to their competitor, they too will be willing to sacrifice their bottom line only so far to attract that customer. So expect it to be pretty high from both providers.

about three weeks ago
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Bill Would Ban Paid Prioritization By ISPs

jfengel Re:Democrats don't want this to pass (216 comments)

If the Democrats wanted this to pass, they would have brought the bill to floor when they had a chance of it actually passing.

When was that, exactly? The Democrats haven't had control of the House since 2010. They did have a brief period where they had a veto-proof majority, back in 2009, but that only lasted a couple of months (after the Minnesota election was finally resolved, and before Ted Kennedy died and was replaced by a Republican). They devoted that time to health care. They didn't expect to maintain that advantage long, though they didn't expect it to end quite so soon.

Since then, there has been no chance of anything passing. Nothing has passed since then, aside from naming a few post offices and re-authorizing existing laws. I agree that the Democrats don't expect this bill to pass, and that this is more publicity stunt than serious attempt at legislation, but they might well be willing to pass it (or something like it) if they could. But they can't; the last Congress was the least productive in history and this Congress may manage to be even worse.

about three weeks ago
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Bill Would Ban Paid Prioritization By ISPs

jfengel Re:Gloriously Short Bill (216 comments)

It's short only because it's telling the FCC to do the real work. The key bit is:

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall promulgate regulations that...

A lot of major laws are like that. The law itself grants some kind of authority to an executive branch department, and they come up with the regulations that implement that authority. That can often run into many thousands of pages, and they can change literally every single day. Regulated industries often have employees whose sole job it is to ensure that they're in compliance with the regulations.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Congress aren't experts in the domain. The executive branch employees are (or at least, are supposed to be). They work with the industry experts to clarify all of the corner cases and vaguenesses that make up any complex issue. And the issues are complex; they often seem simple to outsiders but only because they don't know what they're looking at. The same thing probably happens in your job.

The departments aren't completely unsupervised. They report, ultimately, to Presidential appointees, who have to be approved by Congress and produce regular reports to the Congress. And when things go wrong, they get hauled in front of Congress to explain themselves.

Er, digression aside... what would have happened were the bill to pass (it won't) is that the FCC would produce a lengthy set of regulations, which would surely provoke all kinds of outrage as the actual nitty-gritty details are less pleasant than the overall sentiment. In fact, I'd say that they're aware that it won't pass, which is why they get to make it so vague. Real bills, the kind where they want to strictly limit the authority of the departments to get exactly what they want, are the result of compromises within the legislature and are usually much more detailed. You can get the details in legislation or in regulation; the former is more permanent and the latter is more flexible, which can be good or bad depending on your point of view of the matter at hand. But there will be details, and they're going to be voluminous.

about three weeks ago
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FBI Says Search Warrants Not Needed To Use "Stingrays" In Public Places

jfengel Re:Someone please aware me: (303 comments)

The summary and the Ars article are wrong. Or rather, they might well be capable of such things, but that's not what the FBI is arguing for in this case. If you click through to the original article that Ars is basing this on, they are not making a claim that it's legal to do so. They're claiming that the envelope information is legal for them to record.

about three weeks ago

Submissions

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Executive order makes government data open by default

jfengel jfengel writes  |  about a year and a half ago

jfengel (409917) writes "Last week, President Obama issued an executive order titled "Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information".

Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.

It relies heavily on a paper from the CIO, "Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People.", issued in February."

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Former Senator claims US government suppressing UFO evidence

jfengel jfengel writes  |  about a year and a half ago

jfengel (409917) writes "Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) says the White House has helped keep the truth about the “extraterrestrial influence that is investigating our planet” from the public. He was joined by five former Representatives. Paradigm Research paid each $20k to appear at a press conference, at which Gravel said:

“It goes right to the White House, and of course, once the White House takes a position, ‘well there's nothing going on’...it just goes down the chain of command, everyone stands toe. ... The smoking gun of the whole issue, which is when they saw hovering space craft in Wyoming and South Dakota over the ICBM missile silos that the missiles couldn't work.”"

Link to Original Source

Journals

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Theater

jfengel jfengel writes  |  more than 11 years ago Just on the off chance somebody comes to find out who I am, I'll stick in a plug for my theater group, The Rude Mechanicals. We put on really, really good Shakespeare in Laurel, MD. Half the cast reads Slashdot, and you've never seen Shakespeare until you've seen it performed by computer nerds. The other half are English majors. This is serious amateur theater.

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