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Satellite Images Show Russians Shelling Ukraine

xelah Re:Weakest Russia ever (571 comments)

Russia is in some danger of wrecking its own economy. Putin is a clever guy who employs a lot of other clever guys, and will certainly know the risks, the question is more about what he can and can't do to improve matters without compromising his own position. Russia has actually been moving up the ease of doing business index, which might surprise people who only ever look at the less boring media. But it has a lot of other problems as well.

Oil and gas is great for centralized states. It's easy for governments and oligarchs to control compare to, say, a well diversified manufacturing base full of new products. But Russia's oil output is compromised by a lack of investment, taxes are very very high on oil profits and you always face the danger of having your assets seized. There's going to be a big questions over whether the Russian government is going to divert money it'd like to spend on popularity in to its own oil investment, and/or whether it can attract foreign investment (and possibly expertise). This is the same sort of problem Venezuela had, except Hugo Chavez was far more stupid about it (he took so much money from the state oil company to buy popularity that its output fell through lack of investment, and he sacked a huge chunk of his oil expertise out of spite after a strike).

Meanwhile, a centrally controlled economy run by governments, oligarchs and local pet thugs who steal what they can is never going to be too good at innovating with new products and methods. The current war is making Putin very popular, and so presumably less dependent on other support and more able to do something about this....for now.

A strong oil industry can make life hard for other industries if you have an open economy - local manufacturers can find themselves producing products which can be obtained much more easily by digging up a little oil and swapping it internationally for foreign goods. Oil sanctions would certainly help other industries develop more quickly....but I suspect those industries wouldn't operate very well.

It's certainly naive to write off the Russian economy, it's amazing how well problematic economies can product....but it's always going to be limited by its dysfunctional politics and state, which will never be tackled as long as Putin (or his heirs) is there.

3 days ago

Russian Government Edits Wikipedia On Flight MH17

xelah Re:I don't see the problem. (667 comments)

If you're competently operating an air defence system you don't just 'expect' civil aviation to avoid you as your only way of avoiding killing hundreds of civilians and pissing off a lot of governments. It isn't difficult to check, it isn't difficult to notice constant overflying traffic heading to or from Russian airspace on your radar and wonder what it is, it isn't difficult to listen in on air band radios, it probably wouldn't have been so hard to get a question to civilian air traffic controllers in Russia and it would hardly have been impossible to issue a warning.

The people involved were clearly too incompetent to have been given access to air defence missiles.

about two weeks ago

European Commission Spokesman: Google Removing Link Was "not a Good Judgement"

xelah Re:Well, duh... (210 comments)

The directive is from nearly 20 years ago so I doubt there are many MEPs or commissioners who couldn't blame their predecessors if they wanted to, or point out that few people were really expecting Google and the Internet as it is now. Besides, it's been working OK for a long time (except for continuing poor enforcement). It was written to stop companies selling on your data as sales leads, credit reference agencies giving out inaccurate data you're not allowed to see or correct, employers keeping irrelevant or inaccurate records about you or keeping it far longer than they need it, organizations asking for your data for one reason and then using it for another, employers keeping (or 'obtaining') lists of union members/activists, and so on.

The difficult bit is keeping all of that whilst handling search engines appropriately.

about a month ago

How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct?

xelah Re:A sampling of hot button economic issues (305 comments)

But now you also have to decide what 'benificial' means. Does it mean more GDP? politicians and business types like to act as if it does. Does it mean higher economic welfare? You're more likely to get that answer from an economist, though many will still go on to consider only GDP because it's easier and it's what their employers care about.

You'll certainly find papers on the effect on GDP of things like infrastructure spending, top income tax rates and immigration. You're unlikely to find much beyond the abstract and theoretical about their effects on economic welfare.

So you can still argue that your policy will make people better off, even if the economic evidence on GDP is unambiguously against you.

Even if you couldn't, it still wouldn't matter. Economists don't run the economy, ordinary people are all too ready to dismiss them in favour of their prejudices and politicians are all to happy to sacrifice economic welfare for political reasons. And, of course, campaign funding and personal reasons.

(As an aside, for the US working hours and inequality should probably be at the top of the economic-welfare list....though infrastructure needs a serious kick up the arse there, too, AFAICT).

about a month ago

Air Pollution Can Disrupt Pollinating Insects By Concealing the Scent of Flowers

xelah Re:Pity (67 comments)

There are quite a lot of well known and in some cases proven ways to reduce traffic pollution, some available sooner than others. Some examples: better car emission standards, more and better trains trains, electric cars, high fuel taxes (to affect vehicle choice and travel distance), encouraging shorter commuting times or telecommuting and urban tree planting.

about a month ago

EU May Allow Members Home Rule On GMO Foods

xelah Re: Let's get rid of EU (272 comments)

With millions of EU citizens living across borders, large trade flows and shared environmental and political concerns, getting rid of the EU will mean a new treaty organisation to handle all this stuff. 28x27 bilateral agreements on product standards, fisheries, competition, access to benefits and healthcare, taxation and energy isn't going to work.

There will always be something in the place where the EU is now. At least this one HAS a parliament, unlike the WTO, NATO, etc. Better to make it work.

about a month and a half ago

Uber Demonstrations Snarl Traffic In London, Madrid, Berlin

xelah Re:Competition Sucks (507 comments)

Insurance may price some riskier drivers out of the market, or insurance companies may refuse to offer insurance at all. And they may impose conditions, and provide incentives (in the form of lower premiums) to use risk-lowering techniques (like minimum vehicle standards, driving courses, recording devices and the like) and make different choices (cheaper to insure cars).

about 1 month ago

Google Has Received Over 41,000 Requests To "Forget" Personal Information

xelah Re:Do No Evil so why not delete the info? (138 comments)

I don't know about EU countries other than the UK, but the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act isn't quite /that/ wide. The time limit is different for different crimes (immediate for police cautions, never for prison sentences over 30 months - so you can certainly forget about having your conviction for mass murder spent). It doesn't require old records or publications to be destroyed. It doesn't require that no-one ever mention it, instead you can be sued for defamation if you do it maliciously (and, AIUI, you can't be sued for defaming a dead person so historians don't need to worry so much). And, employers are allowed to consider it anyway for some jobs (financial jobs, anything involving children, taxi driving, etc.). In fact, if you want to volunteer to work with children you might have much more than your spent convictions inspected, but pretty much any contact with the police at all.

What it does mean is that you can't be charged higher insurance premiums because you got caught speeding a few times ten years ago, can't be sacked from a shop when your employer discovers you shoplifter many years ago, etc. Personally I think it's of benefit to society as a whole because it provides an eventual route to a normal life for people who stop offending. In particular I'm thinking of lazy service providers who find it easier to say no than think about it, and recruiters who may think that someone poses no extra risk but worry that if it goes wrong they as individuals will get the blame.

about 2 months ago

Study: Royalty Charges Almost On Par With Component Costs For Smartphones

xelah Re:so apple and samsung should just research it al (131 comments)

I'm having trouble linking royalty costs to "stifling innovation" though. Getting paid via royalty payments is a pretty good reason to innovate: invent something, get paid. Increases in the amount people are paying in royalties just increases the incentive to invent something and get paid. In fact, it is doing exactly that. Companies invent stuff, or buy inventions, just to use those inventions as collateral to get access to other inventions. That $120-$150 estimate they put on there is not cash payments, it is $120-$150 of something... such as their own inventions.

Innovation and improved technology isn't just about invention. An improvement in technology is an improvement in the techniques people use to do stuff. A marvellous new thing used by hardly anyone is only a very small innovation. So, if a law limits access to new inventions then the improvement in technology is also limited.

I don't particularly recall that many "Cant afford royalty payments so our product is cancelled" stories.

I suspect that 'new product not developed because its expensive' doesn't attract readers well enough. Besides, just think of how many more people would be using better technology if they could buy a better phone with the same money. Abolish all patents today and there'd be a jump in the technology people use - in the short term.

It all comes back to the core dilemma of intellectual property: the cost of reduced adoption of a new invention vs the cost of it not being financially worthwhile to invent.

about 2 months ago

Study: Royalty Charges Almost On Par With Component Costs For Smartphones

xelah Re:so apple and samsung should just research it al (131 comments)

Along with the actual definition of "rent-seeking []". Rent-seeking is when one spends wealth on lobbying to increase their share of some limited resource, without creating anything of value in return.

That's a terrible definition.....even later in the same Wikipedia article it's redefined as 'an attempt to obtain economic rent', linking to the entry on economic rent itself, which has a section on monopoly rent which specifically mentions patents.

Economic rent is pretty much everywhere in some degree, because monopoly power is everywhere to some degree (nothing is perfectly competitive). And I think it would be wrong to just assume that it always causes a welfare loss just because it's become a (justifiable) mainstream-ish term of abuse, a correctly designed patent and copyright system being an obvious counterexample. Maybe in a perfect first-theorem-of-welfare-economics economy, but not in a real one.

about 2 months ago

Google Unveils Self-Driving Car With No Steering Wheel

xelah Re:No steering wheel? No deal. (583 comments)

And if you think your judgement and perception is better than this computer system, you are full of hubris and a menace to other road users. It works both ways.

Whatever. My driving skills (or lack thereof) are a known quantity to me. I have some grasp of what I can and cannot do in a vehicle.

I think that's unlikely, at least for most drivers. How many times have you experienced an emergency stop from 70mph? Or practiced regaining control from a skid? Or when sliding on ice, or aquaplaning? Most drivers will have no idea how their car behaves in those situations and have no idea how good their skills are because they've never been tested in those circumstances, or have only tested them once or twice. One would expect that a self-driving car's abilities will have been tested much more.

about 2 months ago

Google Unveils Self-Driving Car With No Steering Wheel

xelah Re:So when will the taxi drivers start protesting? (583 comments)

Or maybe there are more controlled environments - moving people around certain parts of airports springs to mind - which will be the first targets. Places where pedestrian and other traffic isn't allowed. Public and legal acceptance is far more likely there, and it'd be a better and eventually cheaper service than waiting for one of a handful of buses.

about 2 months ago

The US Vs. Europe: Freedom of Expression Vs. Privacy

xelah Re:The Problem Isn't "Free Speech vs Privacy" (278 comments)

The problem is that some nations want to enforce their rules on other nations.

Indeed - specifically, in this case, people wanting the US constitution to apply to a European court handling a case brought by a Spanish man against a Spanish company, Google Spain. The data was collected by Google Inc, but for the purpose of allowing Google Spain to sell advertising in Spain.

about 2 months ago

UK May Kill the EU's Net Neutrality Law

xelah Re:UK EU more problems than solutions? (341 comments)

Given that most of the anti-EU sentiment in the UK has been whipped up by anti-immigration types complaining that the UK doesn't control it's own borders, I think we'd have to expect new barriers to moving in and out of the UK. For many anti-EU people here, limiting free movement and kicking out foreigners seems to be the whole point of leaving the EU. I think a lot of the political mainstream would themselves want to pretty much recreate the EU membership in other treaties, but would be under a lot of pressure to limit movement from the anti-EU public and parties. And I'm sure the EU would be anxious to respond in kind.

about 2 months ago

UK May Kill the EU's Net Neutrality Law

xelah Re:Why are they in the EU again? (341 comments)

The EU has a common tariff system, and EU members impose these tariffs on goods entering the EU. For example, it's 8.8% for knitted gloves and 7.6% for other kinds of gloves. Think, just for a moment, what this implies for someone wanting to move goods in to the UK from Ireland or France - or to/from Scotland if Scotland ends up independent inside the EU. Think of what's involved in enforcing that, in declaring goods, understanding regulations and handling the payments.

about 2 months ago

Nasty Security Flaw In OAuth, OpenID

xelah Re:I thought everyone knew this (18 comments)

Mmm...I can't help thinking there's a hole in that somewhere. Couldn't they use the account to accept a bunch of payments for sales they don't intend to fulfil, transfer the money to themselves and then leave you with the chargebacks? Quite possibly PayPal will come after you if your account is negative.

about 3 months ago

Distracted Driving: All Lip Service With No Legit Solution

xelah Re:There is this button. (184 comments)

I think the phone is somehow more risky. I'm not even sure how. But I suspect it is that your eyes literally shut off when the person is talking about certain subjects. They've done studies that showed - even people good at driving and talking - that their field of vision narrows considerably while they are on the phone. The problem is not the 97 out of 100 situations where that doesn't matter. It's the 3/100 situations which require your full attention and you didn't have it to give.

There have been studies by linguists attempting to demonstrate that language comprehension involves acting out the meaning in your head. Something like this:

  • Take a bunch of sentences, some meaningless, some implying movement towards the hearer ('Scratch your nose'), some away from the hearer ('Close the drawer').
  • Split people in to two groups. Give them all a box with two buttons on it, one near to them the other further away. Give them the sentences one at a time.
  • Tell one group to press the near button if the sentence they hear is valid. Tell the other one to press the far one.
  • Observe that the 'far is valid' group takes longer to assess 'action towards the hearer' sentences as valid than 'action away from the hearer' sentences. Observe the opposite for the 'near is valid' group.

If language comprehension can interfere with planning physical movement like that then it's not hard to imagine it degrading driving skill.

about 2 months ago

Distracted Driving: All Lip Service With No Legit Solution

xelah Re:I farted (184 comments)

Unfortunately, as a society we've developed strong social expectations that phone calls be answered immediately. Not just in cars - in casual conversations, and if you've ever been in a queue being served by someone also answering the phones you'll know that callers get priority every time. And once you've answered there's a strong social expectation that you'll pay attention and respond, and you don't get the usual gestures and situational awareness that politely indicate 'I really need to deal with this other thing right now'.

So I suspect that the best thing the original questioner can do is to establish a reputation as the person who never answers calls in the car.

As for legal responses.....people mostly wouldn't do it if they thought it would lead to so much as chipped paint or a $50 fine, never mind injury or enormous fines. The problem is that it almost always doesn't cause any of those things. Cranking up the fines probably won't help - it's cranking up detection rates that'll help. And it gives a good excuse to callers if fines are a common experience.

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Which NoSQL Database For New Project?

xelah Re:S3 better than files on disk (272 comments)

Now scale that. Or just lock it properly.

If you want simple, scalable and low sysadmin overhead and all you need are key -> value lookups then Amazon's S3 can be an excellent choice. You don't need to manage it, you don't need to work out how to add servers and its well proven at extremely large scales.

However, like a lot of other posters, I'm very sceptical that NoSQL is the place to start. SQL databases can do a LOT for you, are very robust and can scale very considerably. As your requirements grow you might find yourself wanting things like indexes, transactions, referential integrity, the ability to manually inspect and edit data using SQL and the ability to store and access more complex structures. You're likely to give yourself a lot of pain if you go straight for NoSQL, and even if you DO need to scale later combining existing SQL and new NoSQL data stores can be a useful way to go.

about 4 months ago

Study: Exposure To Morning Sunlight Helps Managing Weight

xelah Re:depression (137 comments)

Poor sleep, too, IIRC. This is why I'm sitting in front of a 125W compact fluorescent bulb right now. The sort of thing people use for growing, err, orchids. Not sure that'd work if I didn't work from home...but maybe if I didn't work from home I'd be outside long enough each morning not to need it.

about 4 months ago


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