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In this year's US mid-term elections ...

mdfst13 Re:What do you vote for? (551 comments)

Many people are unhappy with the idea of elected judges, because it means that popuarity could best competence or ethics, but that sure gives a lot of credit to the politicians who would otherwise appoint them.

I think that you are missing the point of why judges shouldn't be elected. Say you're accused of a high profile murder. Do you want your case tried by a judge who is following her or his own conscience? Or one who is trying to convince voters that he or she is tough on crime?

Say you are going to court in a civil case. Do you want your case tried by a judge who is secure in office? Or someone who has accepted campaign contributions from your opponent in the past and could really use more for the current competitive election?

Even if politicians appoint worse judges than elections would provide, elections cause active pressure on judges to change behavior. This makes elected judges exceptionally bad during the election period or leads to good judges getting kicked out for not being responsive enough to voters.

It's also worth noting for the purpose of this thread that not all elections occur in even years. For example, the governors of Virginia and New Jersey were elected in 2009. Also, some governors serve two year terms (e.g. New Hampshire) or serve four year terms that roughly coincide with the presidential terms.

It's not uncommon for odd year elections to be used for local elections (mayor, township commissioner, etc.) but that too is not set federally.

about 3 months ago

Software Patents Are Crumbling, Thanks To the Supreme Court

mdfst13 Re:Other side of the story. (118 comments)

In my opinion, its probably one of the most meritocratic agencies in the entire Federal government.

Sure...until someone figures out that if you just stamp the application Approved or Rejected without reading it, you can process it much faster and get a bigger bonus. Perhaps their system would catch that particular problem, but I'm sure that there is some way to cheat on doing the work in favor of getting faster completions. I'd rather encourage good work than quick work. Unfortunately, it can be hard to distinguish good work from bad work. Quick is easier to measure but not nearly as valuable.

The part about giving a bonus for being quicker than others is especially egregious in a system that relies on averages. It encourages people to find ways to quickly dump patent applications that are complex to evaluate. This makes the whole system slower while making that examiner's stats look better. It also discourages people from looking deeper into applications that mostly fit a particular narrative but which would require a much longer period to evaluate properly.

about 4 months ago

Patents That Kill

mdfst13 Re:pharmaceutical patents (240 comments)

it would make both high-risk and low-risk drug development more profitable, and companies would still choose low-risk drug development.

Why would it make low-risk drug development more profitable? I'm assuming you mean the minor variants when you refer to low-risk drugs. Currently they get the full patent period for minor variants, since they are already authorized to sell them. This makes minor variants ridiculously more profitable than new drugs. Under my system, the minor variants get a much shorter patent period while the original drug gets a longer patent period. Well, a longer sales period.

Note: it's interesting that the original post describes the opposite problem (at least in wording). The article is about high-risk drugs being favored over low-risk drugs. This is because high-risk drugs succeed or fail quickly. Low-risk drugs take longer to test. Therefore the system is biased towards dangerous drugs. I'm guessing that you meant business risk rather than medical risk, as otherwise, your post makes no sense to me.

I'm also unclear as to why "socialized costs for prescription drugs" causes minor variants to be favored over new drugs. Yes, it causes new drugs (both variants and original drugs) to be less expensive to the user than they otherwise would be. It discourages doctors from making a trade off between cost and efficacy. But looking purely at the variant/original issue, I don't see how it matters. This is not to say that I don't agree with making prescription drugs bought by end users. I like that idea, although I suspect that it would be politically unpalatable.

Now if you want to raise a new issue of new drugs being encouraged in areas where there are already perfectly good old drugs, then that's a separate issue. My suggestion won't help with that, as it's completely orthogonal to that issue. It's not intended as a cure all. It's focused on two problems: the favoring of minor variants over original testing and the corporate disincentive to test fully.

It's possible that the FDA's standards are arbitrary and could be relaxed, but even if they are, it doesn't solve the problem. Currently, if a company finds a problem in testing, they are highly incented to avoid doing additional testing to explore the problem. Additional testing both increases their costs and reduces their revenue. Under my system, it would only increase their costs and potentially reduce their liability costs. Revenue would be unaffected (although delayed). This might even help with arbitrary FDA rules, as I expect some of them exist to cover over the disincentive for companies to extend testing.

about 5 months ago

Patents That Kill

mdfst13 Re:pharmaceutical patents (240 comments)

The fact that they encourage the wrong kind of innovation (minor variations on existing drugs) is not a problem with patents per se, it's a problem with the costs and risks of FDA approval: it's much safer to develop a small variant of an existing drug than to develop a completely novel drug for untreatable diseases.

Perhaps, but this is still addressable by changes in the patent system. In particular, they could change pharmaceutical patents to have three periods: testing, restricted use, open use. The testing period would last as long as necessary, perhaps longer than patent periods are currently. The restricted use period (primarily for antibiotics) would last as long as the approving agency desired. The open use period would last for a defined length of time (perhaps eight years). The effect would be to increase the open use period for new drugs and decrease it for retreads.

The current system makes it difficult for a pharmaceutical company to extend the testing phase. Each additional year in testing is a year lost from being able to actually sell the drug. This produces bad results, as companies are terrified of extending the testing period. If the patent period were shorter but only started *after* testing was finished, this perverse incentive could be removed.

about 5 months ago

Amazon's eBook Math

mdfst13 Scalzi also ignores when the hardback is more (306 comments)

Back during the agency model, some eBooks were more expensive than the associated *hardback*. This is obviously absurd. The thing was that if Amazon was paying the publisher the same amount for the eBook as the hardback and was required to mark up the eBook by 43% (so as to give 70% of the gross to the publisher), that was a natural result. Amazon doesn't get a 43% markup on their hardbacks (at least not in the best sellers section).

The problem that small book sellers have isn't that eBooks are priced lower than hardbacks. The problem is that Amazon's markup is so much lower than theirs. Amazon sells books close to the price that small book sellers *pay* (presumably because Amazon buys direct from publishers rather than through third parties like Ingram Micro). Now, for hardbacks and paperbacks, at least the book sellers can offer immediate gratification. But if they are competing with eBooks, they lose that advantage. That's why publishers are trying to make eBooks more expensive than the associated paper books.

This is especially egregious with modern books. The publisher receives a digital copy of the book. They have to do extra work to convert it into a printable form. Yet they act like it is harder to convert their digital copy into one readable by Kindle or an ePub device. And then the book is digitized forever, giving them a steady revenue stream for the ridiculously long copyright period.

The other thing that Scalzi ignores is that publishers can't have legitimate reasons for maintaining the relative prices of paper and digital books. That's illegal. They already lost that case.

Ideally, publishers will realize that they should charge slightly less for a digital copy than a paper copy of a book but pay authors the same either way. That will cover their lower costs on a digital copy (no printing, shipping, or returns costs). The net result should be eBooks that are slightly discounted relative to the paper books sold on the same site.

We don't know what's happening inside the Amazon/Hachette negotiations. There's some evidence that Amazon wasn't previously asking for a digital discount. Their launch price was to pay the same for digital copies as for paper copies. Are they still doing that? Or has Amazon been trying to insist on deeper discounts?

about 6 months ago

States That Raised Minimum Wage See No Slow-Down In Job Growth

mdfst13 Re:Economists (778 comments)

It's a bit baffling how "some economists" weren't fully cognisant of what would happen when the minimum wage was raised. I mean it's not as though it's the first time it has happened, the effects should be well known by now.

The problem is that it's not clear what happens when the minimum wage increases. It's also not clear whether something different happens when a city or state does it versus a national change.

Case in point: thirteen states increase the minimum wage and employment increases faster (on average) in those states than in those that do not increase the minimum wage. The presumption in the post is that the causality is that increasing the minimum wage causes employment increases. What if the causality goes the other way? Increasing employment could make states more willing to raise the minimum wage. Correlation does not indicate causality, so economists can't differentiate between the two explanations.

There's actually been quite a bit of study of the effects of raising the minimum wage. The problem is that it's impossible to produce a real double blind study. Without that, there will always be reasonable doubt. In one study, they won't be able to eliminate the possibility that employment would have gone up faster without the change. In another study, they won't be able to tell if people are moving from the comparison area to the change area for the higher wage jobs. In another study, perhaps employment increases occur because kids drop out of school to take jobs.

Economics isn't anywhere near as mature a science as physics or chemistry. It doesn't lend itself to repeatable experiments. Without objective data, subjective opinions take a far greater role.

about 6 months ago

Amazon Confirms Hachette Spat Is To "Get a Better Deal"

mdfst13 Re:To Summarize (211 comments)

Which seems a little strange in the context that they appear to have been the ones who decided to take this particular action as a way of slapping around Hachette.

Actually, these actions seem driven by them not having a contract rather than chosen by Amazon. Without a contract, Amazon can't be sure of filling pre-orders at the promised price. Without a contract, Amazon can't return unsold books. The result is that they can't allow pre-orders or order books they aren't sure they'll sell. It also may be that Amazon normally gets credit for warehousing books with limited sales.

This is what the business looks like when selling without a contract.

Without an actual look at the contract negotiations, it's hard to say who's to blame for the lack of a contract. Perhaps both are. Perhaps authors are to blame for not demanding better contracts (authors often make less for digital books than print books, even though publishers charge Amazon more for them). The only thing that we can say externally is that book prices are often ridiculous. There is no reason for the digital copy of a new bestseller to be more expensive than the print copy.

about 8 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Science Books For Middle School Enrichment?

mdfst13 Re:Jules Verne (203 comments)

Not only Jules Verne. What about H.G. Wells? I'd also include Arthur Conan Doyle. Most of the science fiction in Sherlock Holmes has turned into science fact, but in some ways that actually makes it more relevant for your purposes.

More recent classics would include the Heinlein juveniles (almost everything he wrote before Strange in a Strange Land plus some of what he wrote afterwards) and (as others mentioned) the Asimov books. The robot series is more for programmers than scientists, but there's quite a bit of interesting science floating around Asimov.

Not classics, but the Tom Swift and Danny Dunn books are oriented towards juveniles and promote science.

about 2 years ago

New Asteroid Mining Company Emerges

mdfst13 Re:Controlled descent? (148 comments)

It would probably be a lot cheaper to bring an asteroid to Earth first and then mine it, rather than send robots up to do it.

That's true of the first asteroid, but after that, you get too much loss from having to send out the scouts and sample collectors from the Earth's surface. The advantage with this system is that once it's set up, they can build their spacecraft in space. That saves the energy costs of a ground to space launch.

It's also worth noting that energy is cheap in space. On the ground, you either have to worry about radiation (fission reactions) or atmospheric loss (solar power). In space, solar panels are effectively more efficient, as they can operate around the clock (no night) and with direct solar radiation. Therefore, a factory built in space does not require earth bound resources to operate.

The first phase (where they launch everything from the ground) is incredibly expensive and offers minimal return. Once they are set up though, it becomes much cheaper. Your proposal would leave them always in the expensive first phase. It is a cheaper version of the first phase, but that doesn't help since the first phase is so much more expensive.

That's essentially been the problem with our space program. We've always been in the first phase. We launch everything from the ground, which uses up ground based resources. This is expensive. What if we changed to only launch people from the ground? It would be much cheaper and easier to obtain iron and other needed minerals in space. Until we do that, our space program cannot sustain itself. It's a drain of resources, not a generator.

about 2 years ago

Publisher of Free Textbooks Says It Will Now Charge For Them, Instead

mdfst13 Re:Who said there was no revenue? Free != no reven (156 comments)

Software needs support because it is complex and buggy. Books, not so much.

Really? Many textbooks are used by professors at universities and supported quite heavily. I think that the problem that these guys had was that they tried to follow the old model, where textbook writing subsidizes the university professor's salary. A more realistic model is for a group of professors to band together to write a textbook (or rewrite one that is in the public domain). That can work because professors are paid based on prestige (i.e. the university is effectively subsidizing the textbook rather than the other way around). However, that model doesn't include a publisher, except one that does print-on-demand (as Amazon and university presses do).

I think that the biggest problem is that near-perpetual copyright means that books have to be quite old before they go out of copyright. That means that all the existing public domain books are out of print and out of date. Writing a book from scratch takes time. Once they have the books, it will probably be easier to keep them up to date under an open source model. Unfortunately, it's hard to get started.

more than 2 years ago

Self-Driving Car Faces Off Against Pro On Thunderhill Racetrack

mdfst13 Re:It will win soon (151 comments)

I've never lived anywhere that didn't have businesses between the UPS depot and me. It doesn't take a lot of pickups to keep the truck from being empty. One is sufficient; more is gravy.

I also think that you underestimate the concentration of pickups. A single Amazon warehouse ships a lot of packages from that one location. So many that they tend to ship trailers that they load rather than have UPS load individual trucks. For that reason, I doubt that most business routes (i.e. ones that aren't to Amazon) are mostly pickups. Business routes would be more evenly divided. Some pickups and some deliveries. It's the home routes that would be concentrated on deliveries. You also need to remember that a UPS truck delivers a large number of packages per day.

I did some Googling to confirm what I thought: http://www.browncafe.com/forum/f6/average-stops-per-day-delivery-pickups-35610/

Note that even the most delivery oriented route still had two pickups. The median seems to be in the eight to ten range. The business route had thirty-seven pickups and almost a hundred deliveries. I'm sure that it happens for a truck to leave or return empty, but it doesn't seem to be typical.

more than 2 years ago

Self-Driving Car Faces Off Against Pro On Thunderhill Racetrack

mdfst13 Re:It will win soon (151 comments)

If the FedEx truck was also self driving than it would only make one trip empty.

Why make any empty trips? Do pickups as well as drop offs and the truck can avoid being empty altogether. Of course, that only applies to generic package shippers like FedEx and UPS. More specific delivery vehicles may not be able to do that.

more than 2 years ago

Is Non-Prescription ADHD Medication Use Ever Ethical?

mdfst13 Re:Is this different from sport? (487 comments)

There's also the problem that we may not know all the side effects. For example, amphetamines in general cause an increase in heart rate. For that reason, Adderall is not recommended for someone who has cardiac issues. Could long term use of Adderall (past high school and college) cause cardiac issues? We simply don't know. If you take Adderall for twenty years and then have to stop, is your mental acuity going to be degraded relative to what it would have been if you had never taken Adderall? Again, we don't know.

Another question is if Adderall actually helps people who do not have ADHD. This would require a real double blind study to be reasonably sure. Has anyone done one? Or are doctors simply prescribing in the hope that this will work? Anecdotally observed beneficial effects could be caused by a placebo effect or by selective memory (improvements are ascribed to the drug while those who stay the same or get worse are just viewed as bad candidates).

more than 2 years ago

How Patent Trolls Harm the Economy

mdfst13 Re:Solve the problem at the root: change the law (123 comments)

How about this process:

1. File the patent application. The application will not be publicly viewable, but it will hold your place in line. Also, this starts the patent period and determines the expiration date.

2. Develop a prototype or license the patent to someone who can develop a prototype.

3. Notify the patent office that you now have a prototype. The patent application now becomes publicly viewable and you can enforce it.

If someone invents a device that would be infringing after step 1 but before step 3, then the presumption should be that the application was obvious and you should lose your patent. Note that this is a presumption (like innocence) and can be challenged. For example, a potential licensee may develop a prototype from your patent without actually paying your license fee. Obviously in that case, you can enforce the patent on them.

If the patent period expires without you completing step 2, your patent is over and you can't enforce it.

This hits patent trolls (who never develop prototypes) while leaving a true research institution alone.

more than 2 years ago

Is Microsoft's Price Model For the Surface Justifiable?

mdfst13 Re:A lower price would make people assume it was c (417 comments)

Another issue is that Microsoft wants to sell software not tablets. If they sell the premium, expensive tablet, that leaves plenty of room for their customers (who are computer builders) to sell cheaper versions or even their own premium versions. If they sold their tablets as cheaply as possible, it would be much harder to sell software to their normal customers. That might push their customers to Android, which is exactly what they want to avoid.

Apple is a consumer company. They sell direct to ordinary people. Microsoft is not (at least not primarily). They sell to businesses. It may make sense for Microsoft to enter the consumer market here, as Apple has been the only ones selling their own solution for both the software and the hardware. This allows Microsoft to compete with both Apple and Android. It would not make sense for Microsoft to only sell integrated solutions, as their main strength is selling to builders (the Android space).

more than 2 years ago

Tesla Motors Getting $10 Million From California For Model X Production

mdfst13 Re:Isn't California in debt? (191 comments)

The only way protectionism causes higher prices is when your industry cannot match the demand.

Protectionism works by increasing the prices of foreign products to match or exceed prices of domestic products. If domestic prices were already as cheap as foreign prices, you wouldn't need protectionism. You would just compete.

more than 2 years ago

Half-Life of DNA is 521 Years, Jurassic Park Impossible After All

mdfst13 Re:Someone forgot to tell these guys (315 comments)

There is a big difference between finding 10,000 year old mammoth DNA under near perfect conditions (the bodies froze quickly because it was already freezing and stayed frozen until they were found) and hoping to find 65 million year old Tyrannosaurus rex DNA under bad conditions (the processes that preserve fossilized bones are bad for DNA--too much heat and pressure). As cold weather animals, mammoths are ideal candidates for something like this. The dinosaurs required much warmer climates.

more than 2 years ago

Statistical Tools For Detecting Electoral Fraud

mdfst13 Re:Gerrymandering (215 comments)

You can get the good things from potential gerrymanders without the bad parts. Instead of dividing into districts, use a proportional representation system where people vote for lists of candidates. That way, if minorities prefer to vote for other minorities, they can. If they prefer to vote based on party, they can. If they prefer to vote on some other basis, they can. Essentially this lets voters choose their representatives rather than letting politicians choose their voters.

This also solves the problem of many voters being unrepresented. About 40% of voters vote for the losing candidate. Under the current system, they have to go to the winning candidate for help with government issues. Under this proposal, they could pick the representative who best fit their beliefs. Also, only a very small minority would get no preferred candidate. This would also allow candidates who do not fit traditional party classifications to do better. States like California could send libertarian, socialist, or Green candidates as well as candidates from the traditional parties. Although no single district has a majority of voters who favor any of those ideologies, the state as a whole has enough voters who do so.

The current system leads to gamesmanship. Democrats took advantage of this for decades. Now Republicans are doing the same thing and Democrats complain -- the way that Republicans used to do. Except in states like Illinois, where Democrats still gerrymander while Republicans complain. Or states like Massachusetts, where there is an unrepresented Republican minority but people don't even bother to complain.

more than 2 years ago

BitCoin Gets a Futures Market

mdfst13 Re:Question for economics wonks (467 comments)

1) It's not based on anything

Well, neither are any of the major currencies, especially the dollar.

The US dollar is valid for paying US taxes. BitCoins aren't.

There is a common assertion that the Fed has been printing loads of money. Ignoring that it isn't the Fed that prints money but the Treasury, it's worth noting that we aren't experiencing particularly high inflation. Inflation is higher than it should be, but not ridiculously so. It's also worth noting that the estimated M3 is smaller now than it was in 2008. M2 is about the same as it was in 2008. Only M1 is higher. The likely reason is that the multipliers that lead to M2 and M3 being bigger than M1 are subdued by the recession. As a result, M1 is artificially high to counteract the drops in other parts of M2 and M3.

Source: http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/money-supply-charts

The problem with the Euro isn't that it is worthless. The problem with the Euro is the possibility that some of the countries that are currently in the Euro will be kicked out. People will still be able to pay taxes in Euros in Germany, France, and several other countries even if that happens.

I don't have a strong opinion on the possibility of BitCoins taking off. I do have a strong opinion on the value of national fiat currencies. So long as they are accepted for tax payments, national fiat currencies will have an advantage over currencies that are not. Competing currencies will therefore have to find or develop their own advantages to compensate.

more than 2 years ago


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