* Posts by David Given

344 posts • joined 4 Aug 2008

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The Empire Strikes Back: Disney tractor-beams StarWars.co.uk from Brit biz

David Given

Perfect missed opportunity...

...if only the Catholic Church had a St. Arwars.

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The Martian: Matt Damon sciences the sh*t out of the red planet

David Given

Re: 20mtr up.

Metres: surprisingly deadly.

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Bill Nye's bonkers LightSail spaceship unfurls solar sails at last

David Given

Re: Changing direction...

Solar sails don't work anything like sailing with wind.

The sail's not going to lift anything against solar gravity, so the only part of your acceleration vector that's of particular interest is whether it's speeding up your orbit or slowing it down. If the former, you'll move outwards. If the latter, you'll move inwards.

There is a solar sail mod for KSP, if you want to play with one.

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David Given

Re: Next up:

That's crazy talk.

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David Given

Don't forget about Ikaros!

Don't forget that this is the *second* light sail mission --- and it's just a test-bed, at that (it's way too low to do anything other than burn up almost immediately). The *first* was JAXA's Ikaros. Launched five years ago alongside their Venus probe, it passed Venus after six months and is now... somewhere (and I haven't been able to find a reference). It was last contacted in April this year.

Ikaros is interesting because it's got LCD panels on the sail which allow the albedo to be changed; it's steerable. They reckon it's getting about 1 mN of thrust.

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Holy SSH-it! Microsoft promises secure logins for Windows PowerShell

David Given

Re: troll troll troll

You did know that Microsoft used to make a Unix, right? It was called Interix, and ran alongside win32 as another personality on top of the Windows NT kernel. It interoperated with win32 seamlessly, so you could combine the win32 GUI with full Posix semantics with processes, sockets, hard and soft links, etc. It even came with gcc. It worked really rather well. It felt very much like an old-school Unix, so Korn shell, an old libc, non-ELF, etc. But it was so, so much nicer than Cygwin. For a while you could even install Debian packages on it.

Unfortunately it never got much maintenance and suffered from institutional rot. Despite being reinvented as Services For Unix, and then Subsystem for Unix Applications (gotta love those names), the last released version was for Windows 8.

More information here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc779522(v=ws.10).aspx

Win8 download here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35512

(The actual Posix layer gets shipped in higher end Windowses by default; but you need to install the userland yourself before you can actually do anything with it.)

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Taming the Thames – The place that plugged London's Great Stink

David Given

Re: Charlton

Here's a picture I love of someone inspecting the lining of a big cylinder. I'd love to get a tour of one of these big ship engines some time.

http://www.marineinsight.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/gauging-liner-wear.jpg

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Land Rover's return: Last orders and leather seats for Defender nerds

David Given

Re: "versions that run on rails"

...huh, I didn't know _A Meeting With Medusa_ was the second in a series --- can you remember what the original was called?

Also, run away, don't walk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Medusa-Chronicles-Alastair-Reynolds/dp/1473210186/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429179964&sr=8-1&keywords=the+medusa+chronicles

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Last flying Avro Vulcan, XH558, prepares for her swan song

David Given

Question to the Reg folks...

...where do you find a *pilot* for one of these? And can you get an interview?

I saw a Vulcan at Farnborough once, shortly after the 2006 refurb. Deeply impressive beast, and a hell of a noise.

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KA-BOOM! Russian rocket EXPLODES over Siberia minutes after lift-off

David Given

I would be totally unsurprised.

Russia's got a lot of engines in storage, and they're selling some to the west --- e.g. both Orbital and Antares are buying cheap NK-33 engines from Russia which were originally built in the 60s and 70s for the N1 lunar flights. Orbital will be using them for ISS resupply missions!

The N1 used 38 NK-33s in its first two stages. They built a *lot* of NK-33s (and NK-15s, the predecessor), and when the N1 was cancelled they got put into storage.

They're seriously good engines, with a top-rate thrust-to-weight ratio, and amazingly reliable; and loads cheaper than building your own. The only comparable western engine is SpaceX's Merlin 1D, and SpaceX aren't selling them. The Russians would be idiots not to use them. They're in such demand that I've seen rumours they're thinking of restarting production. Whether this will actually happen, and whether the new engines will be as good as the old ones, I don't know.

Lots more info here: http://rostec.ru/en/news/4232

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Bloke hits armadillo AND mother-in-law with single 9mm round

David Given

Re: Erm...

This story features stupid people

Stupid people are also found using technology.

Therefore, this story is relevant to technology.

Will that do?

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Silence is golden: Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp is 100 today

David Given

Re: When?

I was thinking about him, too --- I was a big fan when I was (much) smaller. I'd love to know how they did those hair-raising stunts. Knowing the state of the art at the time, probably for real.

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What a time to be alive ... hard and floppy disk drives play Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit

David Given

As a different approach...

'Hitachi Hard Drive Project' is a track made up of sequenced sounds of failing Hitachi hard drives, and it's actually pretty damn good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3b7yV4CUaw

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Saturn's rings, radio waves ... poetry? At home with Scotland's Mr Physics

David Given

I believe that both Maxwell's daemons and Unix daemons are named after the daimons from Greek mythology, which are invisible agents which mediate between them and humans, known only by their actions. They're neither good nor evil, although they may do good or evil things (which to my mind makes the description spot-on accurate in the Unix sense).

Wikipedia's got lots more information but the page is incredibly mangled. The Talk page is worth a laugh, though.

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Dear departed Internet Explorer, how I will miss you ... NOT

David Given

Re: Ahh, the old days...

From Peter Tattam's rather elderly and not-very-updated blog:

---snip---

I continue to develop new and innovative software and have completed several new projects since leaving Trumpet. Among these are a completely new TCP/IP stack and various other software utilities such as compilers, LALR compiler generator tools and PC emulator software. I have a passionate interest in writing operating systems and development tools.

---snip---

Looking at http://www.trumpet.com.au/, he seems to have a DOS IPv6 TCP/IP driver, a partially win32-compatible operating system, and an OS written entirely in Pascal...

I also found this site, which someone (not him) set up to allow you to donate money to the author...

http://thanksfortrumpetwinsock.com/

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2282875

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Curiosity rover's broken arm heals, exploration-as-normal resumes

David Given

Re: um ... who took the picture?

Here's an incredibly dull animation showing the precise sequence of movements they use:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-7lA30cUJQ

And, in fact, if you look carefully at a picture such as this one:

https://danspace77.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/14-158a.jpg

...and study the protuberance immediately above the bottom left wheel, as you look at the image, you can see blurs and glitches as it moves around. (It's the mount for the camera arm.) They've done a really nice job of the stitching; you'll probably have to zoom in.

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Sir Terry remembered: Dickens' fire, Tolkien's imagination, and the wit of Wodehouse

David Given

You're quite right. Dark Side of the Sun. Bad fingers, they don't know how to type.

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David Given

Wasn't there an old afp joke...

"For sale: Terry Pratchett novel --- rare, unsigned edition!"

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David Given

Ahem. Equal Rites was written in 1987. Wyrd Sisters was written in 1988.

Equal Rites, in fact, features only a proto-Granny Weatherwax; her character and the way witching works changes considerably in the later books. (One of Pratchett's strengths, I think, is that he's willing to discard continuity in favour of a good book, although he did fall into the Canon Welding trap in the very later books.)

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David Given

I probably *wouldn't* start with _Colour of Magic_. It's rather different from the rest of the series, being a Fritz Leiber parody, and his style only starts to gel a few books later on.

My recommendations? _Small Gods_, which a minister once described to me as the best book about religion he'd ever read. _Pyramids_, which is about fate, belief (not the same as religion!) and camels. _Mort_, about growing up, death, and Death.

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David Given

He was also an early Internet and social media adoptee, back when it was called Usenet, and spent a lot of time chatting with fans on alt.fan.pratchett.

Also, don't forget his rather more obscure science fiction: _The Dark Side of the Sky_ and _Strata_. I like them both a great deal and they're a lot more thoughtful than they first appear. (The latter features the first appearance of a science-fictional proto-discworld; alas, it also features a ubiquitous typo throughout where it uses 'altitude jets' instead of 'attitude jets'.)

Also, fun fact: _The Colour of Magic_ is a straight Fritz Leiber parody, right down to the structure. Watch for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's cameo in the first chapter!

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US military SATELLITE suddenly BLOWS UP: 'Temperature spike' blamed

David Given

Ceres.

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'Utterly unusable' MS Word dumped by SciFi author Charles Stross

David Given

Re: I admit, I am Word Processor inept.

The biggest rule is that writing and layout are different steps of the process, and need to happen at different times. If you try to build the layout while you're entering the text you'll keep fiddling with the layout as your requirements change, and both the layout and the writing will suffer.

Ideally you should write your text in as simple an editor as you can manage which still supports all the features you need, then once it's done (and you've done the first draft proofreading and editing) you import it into a proper DTP app and do the layout all in one go. That way you know how many levels of heading you have, how big your chapters are, whether you have sidebar boxes, etc, etc.

Now the inevitable plug:

<plug type="shameless"> I wrote a word processor specifically for doing stage 1 in; it's called WordGrinder: http://wordgrinder.sourceforge.net/ It supports plain text with bold, italic and underline; a small handful of non-configurable paragraph styles; it imports and exports most standard formats, including HTML and ODT. It runs on Windows, OSX (but you'll have to build it yourself), and Linux (it's in Debian). I've written about 150k words on it. It's small and relatively efficient and it gets the hell out of your way and lets you get some work done --- you can configure it to give you a completely black screen with your text on it and *nothing else*. </plug>

Or if you want to spend money, use Scrivener.

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David Given

Re: well that might be OK as an amateur

...that does not make me feel better about open source word processors.

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Raspberry Pi, meet face: You're probably NOT Blighty's biggest PC maker!

David Given

Re: Archimedes

I spent a while trawling through the RISC OS kernel, and:

(a) the GUI, user facing front end, CLI, module system, etc --- sheer brilliance; consistent, orthogonal, working.

(b) the underlying OS framework and kernel: KILL IT WITH FIRE.

As an OS it's awful. All the problems of a microkernel OS *plus* all the problems of a monolithic OS *plus* all the problems of a protected memory OS *plus* all the problems of an unprotected OS, etc. The system APIs have grown organically and are weird and inconsistent and full of duplicate, but slightly different, functionality. The bottom page of each process is writeable solely to allow one or two system flags at hard coded addresses (although this may have been fixed after I complained). The main system memory allocator, of which there are several, has a huge amount of code whose purpose is to grope up the stack to find out whether the allocation routine is being called reentrantly, and if so, it follows a different code path. The purpose of this? To allow memory allocation from interrupt routines!

*breathes*

OTOH this huge pile of hacks (with no threading or preemptive multitasking, mind) does actually run really well on the Pi, and I deeply admire the people who've made it done so. I would encourage you to think carefully if you ever find yourself wanting to use it for anything, though.

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David Given

Re: Amstrad

Nooooo!

Or rather, yeeeess, the PCW-16 *was* complete garbage, but that was because of the crappy software. Underneath it was a 16MHz Z80 with 1MB RAM and 1MB flash (in 1995!) and it would have run CP/M and Locoscript beautifully.

It seems that Alan Cox has just aquired one, so we may get a Fuzix port at some point...

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BLOOD STAR of the NEANDERTHALS passed close to our Sun

David Given

I couldn't find it in Space Engine, but I did find this picturesque red dwarf binary near where it should be:

http://i.imgur.com/NQGxrg3.jpg

(The planet and its moon are orbiting the bigger star on the left; the smaller star is on the right. There's also a bunch of planets orbiting the pair way further out which are too dark to take good pictures of.)

It is, alas, wholly imaginary, and is procedurally generated.

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David Given

Re: New BBC Program: MEGA TSUNAMI is coming by Passing Suns

If you mean Patrick Moore, I hope he's no longer hosting the programme, given that he died in 2012.

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David Given

Re: Timely...

I think you'll find that a chap called Herbert Wells can claim prior art on that, with his 1897 story _The Star_:

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/star/

Thanks for prompting me to reread it. (It's quite short, only about 4500 words.) Even 118 years later it's got surprising power, and it's scientifically not bad either, even by today's standards.

(I was going to add that the body in question is too small to be a real star, but a closer reading of the story shows that Wells knows this quite well --- before the collision with Neptune it's not luminous. A dark gas giant from the Oort cloud, maybe? Of course, what Wells *doesn't* say is that whatever it is is probably now on a highly elliptic orbit taking it into the inner solar system, and another Earth interception is likely, although not for a while. At least it's going to threaten the Martians as well. Serves them right, the smug gits.)

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El Reg's plucky Playmonaut eyes suborbital rocket shot

David Given

Re: You mean I can build an open source rocket to hit targets several miles away? Cool!

Frankly, if you can get your missile into low orbit, there are *way* more profitable things you can do than drop them on people.

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In praise of China’s CROONING censors: Company songs NOW!

David Given

Not just songs

Back when, the startup I worked for got briefly involved with Amiga in its Gateway incarnation, at which point a bunch of us got copies of the Amiga *album*.

Luckily, it hasn't been uploaded to Youtube, but unluckily, here's a video of the main song (lyrics: "Rising up / Like a phoenix / From his sleep // Coming out / From the darkness / And the deep // etc") being performed 'live' at a conference somewhere. With dancers. And a rather small, utterly bemused audience not dancing to it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XctKccarzHo

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First look: Ordnance Survey lifts kimono on next-gen map app

David Given

Maverick FTW

Free Android app with some nice features and no nagware which supports map tiles from a couple of dozen different sources --- including the Ordnance Survey. It switches seamlessly between 1:50000 and 1:25000. I mainly use it for the OS maps when in the UK and the OpenStreetmap maps outside. (Unfortunately it doesn't know about the Swiss mapping service maps, which is where I now live.)

Finding the OS map tiles is a bit fiddly; the UI's not great in that area. But once you've set it up you can switch between map sources with a couple of taps.

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Doomsday Clock says 3 MINUTES to MIDNIGHT. Again

David Given

Re: Pete2 All those nukes...

Oo. Got a link? I'd be fascinated to know more.

I've always wondered whether *anyone* has done a proper end-to-end test of a nuclear tipped ICBM. (Probably not.) If nuclear war ever broke out, and it turns out that design flaws in the missiles on all the different sides meant they all failed to work, then it would be hilarious. Also, somewhat of a relief.

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Hola HoloLens: Reg man gets face time with Microsoft's holographic headset

David Given

Re: Hell Officially Froze over for me on the 21st of January 2015...

Me, I've always preferred Gehm's Corollary:

"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

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Come and Twiddle Tek Gear's one handed keyboard

David Given

Re: Old age

For me, that posture's the natural curl of the hand in its relaxed position, or when holding the shaft of my joystick[*].

I've been looking for a chording keyboard for ages, ever since seeing an advert for the Quinkey in 1984 (http://www.naec.org.uk/artefacts/hardware/quinkey); I'm very conscious that my entire income is dependent on my ability to fend off RSI, and I'd love a text entry mode which allows me to rest one hand. But not 175 pounds looking.

[*] You're welcome to whatever mental image you like here, but the one *I'm* talking about is my Logitech Wingman flight stick. WHICH I USE TO PLAY KSP WITH, GODDAMMIT.

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SCREW you, GLASSHOLES! Microsoft unveils HoloLens

David Given

Re: Microsoft usually does..

Yeah, Microsoft's my go-to name for peripherals (he says, typing this into a Microsoft Internet Keyboard with a Microsoft travel mouse beside it). (No. I use Linux.)

My Microsoft Internet Keyboard is years old. I use it a lot and it's shown no signs of wearing out --- even the keycaps are barely worn. Plus it's got some great design; undo a couple of screws on the underside and the entire top shell lifts off, keycaps included; you don't even have to unplug it, as all the electrical parts are in the base section.

...and then you put it in the dishwasher. Cleans all the gunk off the keys like a beaut. The keys unclip, too, and there are little troughs round each one to protect the electronics from coffee spills.

It's a rubber-dome action rather than real keyswitches, but frankly I've never been that taken with keyswitches and I'm perfectly happy the way it is. It'd be nice if the internal USB hub was better than USB 1 so I could plug USB keys into it, but I think that USB 1 was all there was when it came out.

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Microsoft has made excellent software, you pack of fibbers

David Given

Microsoft's good software

Word 5 for DOS was pretty decent, too.

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SpaceX six days from historic rocket landing attempt

David Given

Re: Why land at sea?

Bear in mind that the first stage isn't making orbit --- it's strictly suborbital, with a fairly low apoapsis (although I haven't been able to find the exact figure). Its ability to manoeuvre is limited, basically being a falling metal can aimed about 400km east of the launch site.

I'd say that the most likely reason for using a barge is that's the only way to get a landing site in about the right place. Although I do see that some of the Bahamas are very roughly at the right range, for launches to the south-east. Watch out for SpaceX land acquisitions...

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Purple glistening plasma, you say? Orion plummets back to Earth

David Given

Re: I'm curious

Getting from a Mars->Earth transfer orbit into Earth orbit would use loads of fuel, which you'll need to haul all the way to Mars and back; plus it's another complex manoeuvre in an already complex mission profile. (It's possible to reduce fuel requirements by aerobraking the entire vehicle in Earth's atmosphere --- that way you just need a small amount of fuel to circularise your orbit once you've been captured --- but that's even more hairy.)

Given that you're not going to be reusing the Mars transfer vehicle anyway (it'll be several years old and rather beaten up), you might as well just dump it in the atmosphere and land the crew in a capsule. That way no braking is required --- your transfer orbit just dives straight into the atmosphere.

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Sonic BOOM: 10 blast-tastic soundbars

David Given

Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

Possibly the explosions, screaming , fires and general mayhem when little Bobby pushes a knitting needle through the grille?

I agree they sounded good though - mainly due to being huge and flat and simple, not needing clever trickery to pack them small.

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BORGED! Expat moves from New Zealand to Norway to be acquired by Cisco

David Given

Re: Don't go if you like beer

My guidebook said that there is a cultural drinking problem, even more so than the UK; plus a marginalised indigenous population (I was really astonished to see homeless people in Tromsø). The combination is problematic. I don't blame them for taxing the hell out of it.

Incidentally, it's also the only place I've ever found zero-alcohol beer that was worth drinking. Also cheaper than soda.

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David Given

Don't go if you like beer

...because it's scary expensive. We're talking twenty quid for a six-pack of beer at the supermarket. And when I say beer, I mean Heineken. Drinkable beer is extra!

I was on holiday there earlier this year; I went to Tromsø to see the midnight sun, and had a great time. The scenery is fantastic, the people I met were friendly (although I wanted to see empty places, so I wasn't socialising much), the hill walking is great, if a little surreal --- I walked up the local mountain and about 900m up was trudging through the snow in shorts and a T-shirt and when i was passed a family with a six year old bounding up the mountainside, shortly followed by a couple of women in bikini tops --- and there's plenty of it. But the prices are terrifying. I got an Airbnb apartment which was astonishingly reasonably priced, but even self catering and buying from the local supermarket, the prices made me cringe.

...and I'm an expat living in Zürich. Yes, it's true. Norway is even more expensive than Switzerland.

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Space Commanders rebel as Elite:Dangerous kills offline mode

David Given

Re: Cue the mass demands for refunds.

Except Kickstarter isn't a shop. When you fund something on it, you're not buying anything; you're just giving them money, in the hope that you'll get something in return. There is no guarantee that the something will actually turn up, and the T&Cs you signed up to are totally clear on this.

I don't think you're going to find your credit card company very sympathetic.

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BOFH: An UNHOLY MATCH forged amid the sweet smell of bullsh*t

David Given

Re: What's a female BOFH?

This also has the advantage that you don't need to change the notepaper.

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It’s PAYBACK time as HUMANS send a PROBE up ALIEN body

David Given

Re: Escaping aliens

*cough*

https://twitter.com/hjalfi/status/533027465053356032

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'Yes, yes... YES!' Philae lands on COMET 67P

David Given

Re: "land on comet and return science"

Where do you think they get the mystery goo from?

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SUPER-JAMMY Philae comet probe got down WITHOUT harpoons

David Given

Re: Good luck, at the end of the day

IIRC, for any piece of space hardware like this they build multiple copies of each component anyway --- to test against each other, and in case someone drops one (it's happened, they've dropped a complete $300M satellite on the assembly room for before), and to give them something to try potentially risky procedures on, etc. So yeah, I'd be totally unsurprised to hear that they have a complete identical Philae in a lab somewhere.

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Philae heads for comet, reports back to mothercraft Rosetta

David Given

Re: The videocast is terrible.

You mean inane talking heads and celebutards talking over the top of anything with technical content while occasionally cutting to people going RAH RAH MURIKA HUNH and making fist pumping gestures?

I'll stick with ESA, thanks very much.

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Breaking records: Google exec in terrifying SKY PLUNGE DRAMA

David Given

Re: Brilliant, but...

*twitch*

He'll only feel weightless *while he's accelerating* (because gravity is pulling him down and there's no resistance). One he *stops* accelerating, due to air resistance, he'll stop feeling weightless (because gravity is pulling him down but the air's not letting him accelerate).

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David Given

Re: THE CHUTE OPENED...

These days, apparently, we're not supposed to call it 'splat' any more. The preferred phrase is now 'earth hug'.

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