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* Posts by Gary Bickford

72 posts • joined 27 Jan 2009

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Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco

Gary Bickford

Read "The Checklist Manifesto"

My CEO just loaned me "The Checklist Manifesto", as he liked it. It's a good read about the history of checklists and why we need them. The first well-known modern use was very much related to flying, and avoiding minor problems like taking a nose dive into the ground. A simple checklist turned a failed Boeing bomber prototype (crashed and burned on the first test flight) into the very successful B-17 bomber. And the author notes that lives were saved during his own surgery practice due to using checklists.

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How Microsoft can keep Win XP alive – and WHY: A real-world example

Gary Bickford

Re: XP will only be insecure if connected

One thing IBM did very well back in the 1960s and 1970s was excellent emulation / simulation of older hardware and operating systems. At one point, as I heard tell, the US Social Security Administration was running Autocoder for the 7900 (an assembler-level language running on a 1950s machine), simulated on an IBM 360 running DOS (a 1960s mainframe OS, emulated on a 360 running MVS, simulated on a 3070 running VM. (I probably have all the details wrong, but you get the picture.) This was because the original code *was* the SocSec's business logic, and rewriting raised the probability that the new code would not output the same numbers, causing havoc in the real world.

I assume that sometime in the early 1980s or late 1970s, the administration finally bit the bullet and rewrote the code. But maybe not - the Federal Employees Retirement system is still almost entirely based on paper, for similar reasons.

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Top patent troll sues US regulators for interfering with its business

Gary Bickford

So much prior art

Faximum Software was selling a Unix software package back in the early 1990s with scan-to-email and fax-to-email (and vice versa). My product (company was FXT Corp), InterFax was a networked fax and document server that used that capability. Other prior art includes PaperSight(TM) networked document management system, a product of Visus, Inc., originally released about 1989, Excalibur, and numerous others - essentially every network-aware document management system ever built.

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How to kill trolls and influence Apple people: A patent solution

Gary Bickford

Re: actively trying to invalidate applications by searching for prior art.

It's not supposed to be up to the patent office, at least not entirely. Under current US law, the applicant is supposedly required to present all prior art as part of the application. However two things mitigate against that. First, it requires specialized knowledge and is difficult, time consuming, and expensive to do that. And second, if you do the research and don't happen to find the one patent that can be construed as applying, your liability goes up because (it can be argued) you purposely did not cite the prior art. Worse, you may find that patent and cite it, but then you are pretty much admitting that you are liable for royalties. This is a catch-22. So many institutions tell employees _not_ to look for prior art. So the application may have a few barely-related citations - you have to have _something_ - often expired patents, but basically pretends ignorance, to avoid licensing issues to the prior art holder.

The other problem is that the USPTO by itself can never have a sufficiently conversant staff in every discipline. Patents in high tech fields are often so specialized that only a half dozen people in the world could probably know whether the innovation is unique, etc. IIRC recently the USPTO began to set up a volunteer peer review system. There are many potential issues with that (similar to those in academic peer review), but I think that is a good potential solution to all of the above.

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Joke no more: Comedy virty currency Dogecoin gets real in big Xmas heist

Gary Bickford

The 'Erg' standard

I've casually argued for the use of the Erg, or kw hour, or some other measure of energy as a natural standard of economic value to replace gold. I'm not the first - I found a few papers from the late 1960s and early 1970s arguing for the same thing. First one must assume that a currency should be based on some objective store of value, of course - and that is not a 100% done deal, especially in today's dependence on manipulated currencies. But that's a separate argument.

Energy has some natural advantages as an objective measure. The first, most obvious one is transferability - it is easy to measure almost anything in terms of energy. The amount of energy required to produce, maintain, ship, use, anything is relatively easy to measure, so the price of everything is closely related to its physical cost (other aspects would be rarity, and various intangibles like art value). Most usefully, demand for energy tends to match availability over time - as a general rule, economies have historically developed new energy sources at a rate that roughly matches growth and the demand for energy. So the price of everything in terms of energy tends to remain relatively stable, unlike gold. And unlike gold or other physical measures there is no fundamental problem with a fixed quantity being available. Finally, transfer of energy is much easier in general than transfer of tons of gold or whatever.

So, given the assumption that fiat currencies are a failure, energy seems to be the best alternative. In reality, anything can be used as the measure - gold, silver, nicely carved rocks, wives, goats, camels have all been used as agreed measures. At present the price of light sweet crude oil is as close to a standard measure as anything - when oil prices rise, the cost of almost all goods also rises due to the ubiquity of impact on transportation, heating, electricity, etc. So it would be fairly natural to use a particular grade of oil. But (especially as we use more solar and other non-oil sources of energy, move into space, etc., oil becomes less and less attractive to everyone except the suppliers. The energy contained in the oil is a much better measure. The delivered price of oil in terms of energy would then properly a function of supply and demand, which would also include the cost of production, the value of scarcity (it will run out eventually), the cost of shipping, the cost of management and sales and so forth.

Interestingly, in one of the papers from about 1970, the author argued that using energy as the standard would make nuclear plants uneconomic because, counting the energy used to build them including trucking, etc. and the energy used to decommission them and manage them into perpetuity, a nuke used more energy than it produced. I don't know if that was correct, I somehow doubt that the amortized costs would work out that way, and that was based on the then-prevalent plan to run a nuke 20 years and decommission it; so it's not at all plainly true. But it is indicative of how many economic equations might change given this standard. If a standard economic measure is a good idea, I don't think there is any better measure than energy (by some practical physical quantification).

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Undercover BBC man exposes Amazon worker drone's daily 11-mile trek

Gary Bickford

Re: Is this a story?

Back in the day I worked as a roofer's assistant, carrying shingles up a ladder. In Houston TX, in the summer. It was regularly 100 degrees outside, 100% humidity, and a lot hotter on the roof. I got to the point where I could carry two 80 lb. bundles up the ladder (I did break a few ladders), balancing one on each shoulder. I had to keep three or four roofers busy.

When I got home I took a hot shower, then a cold shower, then collapsed into bed and slept a few hours. Then got up and had dinner.

So - walking 8 hours in an air conditioned warehouse? Hah!

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SR-71 Blackbird follow-up: A new TERRIFYING Mach 6 spy-drone bomber

Gary Bickford

At about 1/2 light speed, according to something I read yesterday, interstellar dust particles will have a relative effective mass equivalent to a medium-sized artillery shell - every few centimeters of travel. And the energy released after impact with the hull will be mostly in the form of high speed particles and X-rays. I figure that the ideal interstellar ship will have about 1/4 mile of water shield in the front of it - protons are the best for shielding, and water has a lot of hydrogen. And that's not counting the thrust required to counteract all that drag.

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Gary Bickford

I'm guessing that when Blackswift was cancelled, the funding was actually continued in various 'black' budget items. At the time of Blackswift the technology was getting close but still very iffy. Now Lockheed has basically said, "We're building this." There's probably $1BB difference between those two states of development.

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Gary Bickford

Re: For this aircraft to be built....

Actually I think the enemy this is designed for is Russia and China, and someday perhaps even India. Remember "nations do not have friends, they only have interests" - adapted from a remark by Lord Palmerston, 1864. A 2030 deployment is 17 or so years from now. Both Russia and China are rapidly working on improving, increasing and advancing their military tech. So is India, mostly in response to China and Pakistan.

I think this tech is basically setting out a benchmark that tells these nations, if they want to play war, they are going to have to ante up at this level.

But also, and more interestingly for me, this technology appears to be a very good basis for either single or dual stage to orbit reusable launch systems. Using the present rocket based systems, about 1/2 of the fuel used is burned just getting to Mach 1, and between 3/4 and 7/8 or higher getting to Mach 5. Then all that hardware is dropped into the ocean. So a first stage based on this technology has the potential to greatly decrease cost, and increase convenience, of space launch systems. It might very well be the final key to orbital hotels, orbital manufacturing, lunar mining, etc.

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Gary Bickford

The one hitch in your argument is that the Fed is presently buying up all the debt that other parties won't buy, and it can and will increase that to whatever extent it finds necessary. Bernanke's lifelong professorial expertise was on government policy and the Great Depression, and he is absolutely convinced that an essentially infinite amount of government largesse can be used to prevent depressions. He's wrong, of course. All he is doing is ignoring second and third order effects, postponing the inevitable, and making the pain last longer and making the final crash more painful. See Venezuela, and Argentina (three times since 1900), etc.

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Gary Bickford

No inflation?

"Officially". That must be why essentially the same car today costs 10 times what it cost 40 years ago. (OK, accounting for new features, call it 5 times.) And why my purchasing power is about the same - house prices, rents, food, etc. - today as it was in 1978, even though I now make about 7 times what I made then. And why my salary today is about 1.5 times what it was in 1999, but I have _less_ purchasing power.

Yes, this is a mix of approximate statistical data and anecdotal evidence. :)

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Gary Bickford

Debt? Who cares?

If you listen to Bernanke and Geitner, there's no reason for a debt limit - it doesn't matter how much we borrow. "Whee! Let's print more money!!" (sigh.)

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iPad Air BARES ALL, reveals she's a high maintenance lady

Gary Bickford

My brilliant idea - use radio-softened glue throughout

I agree that most people aren't going to want to take theirs apart, and fasteners (e.g. screws, tabs, etc.) would require thicker == heavier plastic components. But it would be more efficient to recycle if these machines could come apart without having to be shredded. So, use a glue that releases when struck by some type of radio waves, perhaps microwaves or terahertz waves which are closer to infrared, which might also be sufficient - maybe just heat the thing to 100C - low enough to avoid damaging the chips etc. Then all of the components would just fall apart, ready for reuse or whatever.

Another alternative would be some kind of solvent that the plastic is designed to be vulnerable to.

Both of these are still one-way trips, but at least then the components could be directed to the appropriate recycling mechanism easily and automatically.

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LG G Flex: A new cheeky curvy mobe with a 'SELF-HEALING' bottom

Gary Bickford

Make it an arm phone

I'd like to see it curved backwards on the other axis, so it can be worn on the forearm and leave my pockets free. Use a directional mic and speaker(s) so you could talk to your arm, if you didn't want to use a wired or bluetooth headset.

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Ex-Valve engineers raise begging bowl for 3D holographic-like goggles

Gary Bickford

Re: Release valve

I don't recall if that was how Xerox happened (and I'm too lazy to look it up, but it's certainly true, and it's reasonable. Every company has to evaluate opportunities and direction. There are limited resources, one of which is just 'focus'. If a grocery store chain comes up with a new shopping cart design, should they build it? Probably not - they don't have the expertise, the market presence in that business, or the factory. For Valve to make this a product would require them to become a different company. So perhaps they've kept some piece of the action, and perhaps they're helping these folks out at arm's length but that's as much as they should be doing.

As an alternate case in point that shows another risk - Microsoft's foray into making tablets and other hardware is reportedly encouraging HP to separate themselves from MS a bit - they now see MS as a competitor.

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Leaping SpaceX GRASSHOPPER ROCKET jumps 2,500ft, lands safely

Gary Bickford

Re: *scratching head*

It's been a while since I saw information about this. There is some debate but as I recall the estimate is from 10% to 30% of the fuel. The key thing is that the returning rocket is not longer carrying the weight of the second (& following) stages, most of the fuel is gone, and a big part of the fuel was spent achieving maximum velocity. That velocity can be given away by merely letting gravity take over, only maintaining the proper vertical attitude**, until the thing is coming back at a suitable rate - in fact I think it's best to wait to decelerate (perhaps just maintaining some maximum descent speed?) until the last minute* and use the remaining fuel all at once IIRC. So, taking all that into account, the fuel required to bring it back is much less.

* the last minute - gravity is always accelerating the vehicle downwards. If you slow it down too soon, you'll have to keep burning fuel for a longer time.

** some reusable vehicle designs have been based on a 'flyable' first stage that would use minimal fuel to return, and land on a runway. But that has its own price in weight.

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Asus NV550JV 15.6in full HD notebook - the one we didn't have to send back

Gary Bickford

Try it with a Linux distro - in fact try _every_ review model with a linux distro

Since the majority of El Reg's readers are non-windows, non-mac users, this fine establishment would be doing the world a great service to just plug in a live DVD or two (maybe even a PCBSD DVD?) and see how it works on all these new machines - nothing fancy, just see if it runs normal stuff without tweaking or resorting to geekly file edits. This would provide useful information to us, the great unwashed, who may be ready to buy a new machine, and would also send a useful message to vendors, suggesting that they do that themselves before releasing to the public. This will become increasingly useful as the world continues to move beyond MS-WIndowism.

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Gary Bickford

Re: I really wonder who would see the difference.

"you'd know there is no such thing as too much RAM" - indeed! I regularly run _programs_ that swallow up several GB. I actually use a laptop as a real computer, so I can work without having to sit at a desk.

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DARPA: You didn't think we could make a Mach 6 spaceplane, so let us have this MACH TEN job

Gary Bickford

Re: I still think a rail/supergun in the Andes is the best bet

Not a rail gun per se, but a magnetic launcher (aka 'coilgun') has potential. These are the key factors:

1) The advantages are in potential launch frequency and cost, which is mostly related to fuel and not having to throw away hardware.

2) don't try to do the entire launch package from the railgun, use it as the first stage replacement.

3) without a lightweight heat shield, you are limited in the maximum speed until you get most of the way out of the atmosphere to avoid burning up. But even getting to mach 5 (3800 mph, 1.7km/s) saves about half the fuel. It's been said that 50% of the fuel is used getting to the first 100 feet off the launch pad.

4) if you want humans on board, it's going to be a very long coilgun. I ran similar numbers a couple of months ago - at 10G to reach 5km/s would require a 12.5 km coilgun and 50 seconds. That's beyond what most humans can take, but would be fine for most cargo. I'm too lazy to redo the numbers for 5G and 2km/s but using thumbnail math, 5G to 2.5km/s would also be 12.5 km but 100 seconds?

5) don't forget the mass and handling of the 'carriage' - the thing that the vehicle rides on going up the launcher - you don't want to launch that

The bottom line is, if you look at the coil gun as a cost saving system (long term), it could work. And Ecuador actually does have a space program, so there's an opportunity for someone to work out a deal. Having such a launch system right on the Equator is certainly advantageous. I would think that such a launch system would cost a few $billion.

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From launch to orbit: The new commercial space pioneers

Gary Bickford

Baby steps is key, and we're all in it together

My group (Space Finance Group) is working on both management services and funding for so-called "New Space" development companies. While some companies like those mentioned get most of the press, there are literally hundreds of companies involved, most of which will likely never make the news. Every rocket, every habitation module, every vehicle, is made of thousands of parts that are made by suppliers - from space-rated electronic components to window sealing compounds.

In the relatively short time I've transitioned from an outsider watching this industry to an active participant, I've been astonished at just how large an industry it already is. Some indicators are the number of associations and magazines focussed on it, as well as the number of conferences and conventions.

As I see it, there are three basic types of New Space plans, maybe four:

- Tightly focussed, near-term operational businesses may already be profitable, or may be in the next year or two (but also with long term continuity plans) - this would be Space-X, Virgin Galactic, etc. I would add to this group, the many suppliers that already produce parts and services for both 'Old Space' and 'New Space' clients. This is the 'bread and butter' sector.

- Higher risk, longer term projects with more or less technical risk and potential payouts (hopefully large) in the 10+year time frame. Examples would be Liftport, Deep Space Industries and Golden Spike. Most of these are struggling to get enough funding to go to the next step but there are some interesting ideas for getting some short-term operational revenues to justify initial funding.

- 'Beyond Blue Sky' projects that require much more technical knowledge and/or much more available financial resources than we have availaable now. IMHO all of the Mars projects are presently in this paradigm. For any long-term microgravity habitation, our continuing experience on the International Space Station is a critical element in learning how to live in space. Another example in my mind is Space Solar Power, which has reasonable theory behind it but serious technical and financial risks, and perhaps most importantly political and public relations complications. It is hard to get funding for something that opponents can, and will use fear mongering to inflame the uninformed populace about.

- Last is the large number of individuals who are designing space stations and new propulsion systems at home. Some of these folks will be found at every conference. A very few of these will pan out, and perhaps one out of 1000 will become the basis of the next generation of space systems, or the next after that. I think of these as modern Don Quixotes. It is almost impossible to tell which will succeed, and expensive to analyze their theories. Keep in mind that in the late 1970s, Martine Rothblatt was arguably one of these. She fought the system, overturned an international monopoly on communications satellites, and created Sirius Radio.

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Oracle Team USA sailors admit breaking America's Cup rules

Gary Bickford

Re: I understand

There often seems to be this tension between sports and civil entities. For example the owner of the Miami Dolphins is resubmitting a plan for the State of Florida or the City or something to spend a few hundred $million to further improve Dolphins stadium - and the Dolphins are a loser team. But for cities, sports events can (though don't always) make a lot of money from the tourists that come to town. So it's a bit of a speculative bet on the part of cities.

Having said that, I find it rather hard for a city to justify spending public money on 'bread and circuses'. For reference, read "Plutarch's Lives" on the life of Pericles, who spent public money building the Acropolis and providing free bread and public entertainment in a bid to stay elected. What we can learn from the Ancient Greeks: "Things haven't changed."

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Gary Bickford

Re: Yeah, little technical things

I watched the AC45s in Newport RI last year. You could sit/stand on the side of the water, or you could go back away from the edge where they had some BIG screens set up. What you saw was quite different - the screens had cool perspectives from the helicopters (noisy!), and had the graphics showing what was going on, so you could see the tactical part of the race. Also they showed live video from the boats themselves, so you could see the amazing activity - from a distance sailboats seem like they are just serenely floating along, but on deck it's a blur of activity quite a lot of the time - especially with these very fast boats. From the shore you couldn't see the relative positions as well, but you could see the physical motion of the boats. For part of the race the boats got within perhaps 100 yards of the shore - cats have little draft so they're not constrained as much by shallow water.

We actually went back and forth between TV and shore. I would like to do it again with a FondleSlab to watch the video and earbuds to listen to the commentary.

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Soylent days and soylent nights

Gary Bickford

Taking a hint from Gin & Tonic ...

Tonic was, IIRC, originally developed as a palatable way of taking quinine, which helped the Brits in India and elsewhere deal with malaria. Adding gin made tonic more palatable. So, perhaps the solution to the general blech of Soylent would be to add the proper alcoholic additive. I've always assumed that the famed mythical Ambrosia was basically a tasty nutrient-filled concoction with enough alcohol (and perhaps other mood-modifiers) to give one's environment that pleasant pinkish glow of happiness.

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Bitcoins: A GIANT BUBBLE? Maybe, but currency could still be worthwhile

Gary Bickford

Tech bubbles FTW

Tech bubbles have been shown to be a Good Thing. The open question is whether bitcoin is a tech bubble or an asset bubble. One missing ingredient appears to be competition. There are no significant other competitors in this space, to my knowledge, unless you count the myriad other means of electronic financial transaction, in which case Bitcoin is more of an asset bubble.

Tech bubbles have an interesting profile, as I learned in my own economics classes and research. Almost without exception, they go the same way. Just prior to the collapse, there are a large number of competitors - there were by some counts over 1000 automobile makers in the early part of the 20th century.

When the bubble bursts, 90% or more of the competitors fail, leaving only those lucky and strong enough to survive. By 1933 there were only a dozen or so automobile makers in the US, and only about 1/2 of those survived the Depression, the war, and the 1950s. The interesting thing is that after 10 years, invariably the market that collapsed is at least four times the size at the peak of the bubble. By then the technology has become an essential part of the economy and raised our standard of living.

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IBM Australia on the stand over $1bn blowout

Gary Bickford

Re: SAP

If you read closely, IBM was paid $37m - still a big increase but not the $400 million or the $836 million - that big money was probably almost entirely internal - i.e. union & management - costs. So no, this is not 'evil big company screwing naive government agency'. This is just 'SAP is a PITA'.

This type of overrun seems to happen a lot in big SAP systems implementations - the same may be true of PeopleSoft and Oracle, I don't know. People do not realize that 'computerizing' business practices (which is what SAP is basically doing) is a huge undertaking, especially when the organization is large and the business rules are complex, as these Aussie 'wage and work systems' apparently are. You have no idea how complicated your business is until you try to write down the process in the level of gory detail that is required to automate it.

A company I used to work at, with 65,000 employees split between US and international did the SAP thing. Their original plan was to roll out in the US first, then do international. The whole project was to take a year or two (I forget) and about $300 million, of which IIRC $30-$50 million was to go to the vendor (software, hardware, services). By the time the US was done it had taken five years, the cost was over $1 billion. The company cancelled the international rollout, and SAP stock dropped significantly the next day. The additional costs were almost entirely internal labor and training.

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Apple handed victory in Samsung text-selection patent case

Gary Bickford

Au contraire

<quote>Coca-Cola might call themselves the Real Thing but they weren't the inventors of cola beverages</quote>

Well, actuually, apparently they were (or actually the guy who created the original recipe, that was later bought by some folks who created the company, or some such). It's kind of an interesting story. The real recipe is still a 'secret' though there are several pretty good possible candidates for the original recipe. And it still has extract of coca leaf in it. There is a factory near NYC (IIRC) that has the only federal license to process coca leaf, removing the cocaine from it so it can be used in Coca Cola.

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How I nearly sold rocket windows to the crazy North Koreans

Gary Bickford

Re: How to make the world a better place

"Our morality as a society is what's legal."

Actually that's a fallacy. Unfortunately it's a fallacy that too many believe. It's fairly easy to demonstrate that morality or ethics can not be derived from law. (Or if you prefer to get geeky, consider the legal system as an example of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem). The law must be derived from ethics and morality. There is no way to construct a legal system that can cover all possible cases. A large fraction of human endeavour can be construed either way, and in many cases it is difficult or impossible to determine either legality or morality, such as the classic, "Would it have been moral, ethical or legal to kill Hitler as a child?"

Just one example, from an actual accounting ethics textbook: In the US, a business that leases something (equipment, a building, whatever) can treat it as a capital lease or an operating lease. The choice affects the way things are depreciated, and otherwise treated with regard to taxes and the balance sheet (and thus profits, assets, etc.). The decision is based on one's intended use. Thus, an accountant can either pick the one that saves the most money, or the ethical choice, which is to determine what the actual intended use is, and choose the appropriate method. IOW, both methods are 'legal' but depending on the situation.

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Japan's rare earth discovery bad news for China's monopoly plans

Gary Bickford

Re: >Not me... I have a ute.

No, he's from the Bronx, and talking about his teen-age kid.

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LOHAN slips into tight rubber outfit

Gary Bickford

Another disconnection method

fuse wire, in the path of the exhaust (perhaps even a length of solder?). I like the foil idea as well, and the spring-pressure knobs could work.

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IT'S HERE: Seagate ships 'affordable' desktop hybrid drive

Gary Bickford

Re: "affordable"

between 15 and 10 years ago or so I was buying quite a few drives, and was buying the 10,000 and 15,000 RPM drives not too long after they came out - just long enough that the heat problems were pretty well dealt with. Back then Seagate SCSI drives were the best in speed and reliability (we did cook a couple of the 15,000 drives early on though.) I haven't bought any drives in the last few years so I haven't kept up with the industry. Are Seagates no longer the 'expensive but reliable and fast' brand?

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First, servers were DEEP-FRIED... now, boffins bring you WET ones

Gary Bickford

Re: Practicality?

The article talks about many of your doubts. Using air cooling, there are two very big costs - it is necessary to move a lot of air through, so the fans use a lot of energy (which also adds more heat). And in order to be as effective as possible, the air is usually air conditioned or chilled, which increases the energy used by another 50% or so.

A liquid coolant is thousands of times more effective at conducting heat away from components, so such as system only needs to move small amounts of liquid. Then, once the liquid is moved to the area where the heat can be transferred out of the system (fins, plates, whatever), the surface area of the heat exchanger can be much larger so again no fans are needed.

In the transformers hanging on poles outside your house, a pure convective system (no pumps) circulates liquid coolant up through the copper coils then down through the fins or tubes on the outside of the transformer, letting the heat itself do the work of circulation.

As you say, server farms are going to be the place where this is most cost-effective, but with the amount of wasted space inside a 'tower' for example (much of which is due to the need to move vast quantities of air around quickly), I think a tower or desktop designed for this, perhaps with fins on the back and/or top, might well be the same overall size as your existing machine. And with the convective flow, you would lose the noise and power loss of the fan(s).

I have occasionally wondered why laptop makers don't either put the CPU/GPU behind the screen, or run a heat pipe from the CPU up through the hinges to a radiator on the back of the screen.

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Gary Bickford

Server in a tank

I think you have the right picture - the first one done AFAIK was the Cray II, which sat in a tank of Fluorinert. But as you alluded, hard drives must have to be handled differently. I think all 'normal' hard drives have a way for equalizing air pressure inside and outside - the heads 'fly' on a microscopic layer of air. So the hard drives would have to be designed to live 'underwater'. If they were, they would be one of the four components that would most benefit from liquid cooling - the CPU, GPU, power supply and hard drives generate most of the heat.

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Gary Bickford

The advantage is better cooling of very hot components

The biggest problem in computers is a few very hot components. For example, the heat density of a modern CPU chip is actually higher than the Calrod element in your electric stove (i.e., the BTUs emitted per square cm per hour). Air is not a particularly effective medium for pulling that heat away - even water is many times better than air IIRC. And a liquid has more heat capacity - it takes many times more energy to heat it one degree than to heat the air one degree. Among other advantages, because it is so much better at its job, it doesn't have to be circulated at such high speeds, it takes much less volume, and so the energy cost of moving it around is much less.

All of those big power transformers you see on your power utility lines are liquid-filled. In most cases they don't even require pumps - a well-designed convection system circulates the liquid up through the transformer coils and then out and down through vanes on the sides of the 'tank'.

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Brit biz stops coked-up moist pocketstrokers ruining your pub lunch

Gary Bickford

Been looking for a waterproof phone for a couple of years

Why should dropping a phone in the sink (or, heaven forfend, the toilet) break it and void the warranty?!!!

I like to sail on boats, where it's possible to get 'splooshed' by a wave and be effectively underwater for several seconds, or even fall off the boat and swim around for a few minutes. I'd like to have my phone with me so I can use it for 'quickie' weather and chart lookups. Being on boats pretty much assures the humidity is going to be high all the time.

I did not want to have to use one of those aftermarket cases. So for two years I looked, and waited. The Casio Commando met my specs, but was out of date, old, slow, with a small screen. I need something that meets the Commando specs - five foot drop, 3 feet (1 meter) immersion for at least 20-30 minutes. 10 meters would be better - I have an Olympus camera (u770, earlier model) that can handle 10 meters, why not a phone?

There are some waterproof phones available in Japan for the Japanese market, but who wants a phone that has everything in Japanese? And nothing is available here that does any better than 'splashproof'.

I finally gave up when my old phone started wheezing. I bought a Droid Razr M. Maybe I'll go for the coating eventually. Or maybe, by the time the Razr is old, somebody will have come up with a new model that actually meets the everyday use of most people!

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Google reveals Glass details in patent application

Gary Bickford

Re: Truer than most people realize

See also "Biologically Closed Electrical Circuits" by Bjorn Nordenstrom. The original book with exhaustive treatment of the original research is very expensive (check out your university's medical school library for copy) but there are some books oriented more toward the popular/non-research reader.

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Gary Bickford

Lasers writing on the retina - already patented

Micro Vision Systems has had the patent for using lasers to write on the retina since the early 1990s, licensed IIRC from Washington State University. The original patents may actually have expired by now but I think there are numerous follow-on patents.

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Ad-titan Google blocks Adblock Plus in Android security tweak

Gary Bickford

Re: To be fair...

As somebody once said, "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product." For Google and its paying advertising customers, you are the product.

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Asteroid mining and a post-scarcity economy

Gary Bickford

Funny you should mention Lloyd's ...

... because that's what a company I'm involved in, the Space Finance Group (http://spacefinancegroup.com) is looking at - assisting in finance and management for emerging space development - related companies. I dearly hope we become as successful as Lloyd's! :)

Actually our first project is a Kickstarter project for the National Space Society (http://nss.org/), to produce a series of videos promoting the importance and opportunity that space development presents - space based technologies may change the world economy and the standard of living as much as the 'discovery' of the Americas. The Kickstarter project, called "Our future in Space" is at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/351762534/our-future-in-space-a-national-space-society-video .

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Tech firms face massive tax bill if Dutch vote to end loopholes

Gary Bickford
Devil

Re: You have to admire the cheek

I think that if the holiday is structured right, it could be great. For example, the money repatriated might be required to be invested over the next several years (i.e. not all at once) in new tech startups in the US, or in US venture funds. This could result in a burst of new technology reminiscent of the 1980s that came out of the R&D tax credit - a substantial part of the companies that grew out of the Internet (before the dotcoms), such as Sun, Oracle, and many others were in large part funded by investors taking advantage of that tax credit.

This time around the investments might be directed by the holiday rules into biotech, accessible computing, space development and maybe advanced transportation - maglev rail maybe?

This would require the politicians to actually use some sense in building such a tax holiday scheme, which is admittedly a low probability scenario.

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Lego quad-copter: your ultimate drone nightmare

Gary Bickford

Nerf FTW!!!

I think it would be cool to adapt a nerf gun to one of these. It would be great to have aerial wars with several of these. Or, if one wanted some serious marking, paintball guns! :D A good paintball hit might even cause some flight handling challenges but I don't think would necessarily knock the thing out of action.

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Opposable thumbs for FISTS, not finesse, say bioboffins

Gary Bickford

Does any other animal punch?

It seems to me that all other animals use a motion akin to slapping - a bear or a lion will remove your nearest body part with one swipe of an open paw, claws out. Of all animals I can think of, only humans use the punching motion. (I'm not sure about kangaroos though). So this observation fits with the hypothesis.

Also, the fact that we modern humans _mostly_ are likely to break something when punching is more about how life has gotten more civilized than the inherent structure. The big, burly street-fighting-man type has largely gone out of style (with the possible exception of Russian drivers in car accidents on YouTube). Nowadays few folks are brought up needing the kind of strength and callouses that would have been necessary to defend one's home and family, even a few centuries ago much less a few millennia.

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New Microsoft Windows chief 'shocked' by Sinofsky defenestration

Gary Bickford

Sometimes good management has nothing to do with technical prowess

Without regard to any of the specifics of the MS case, I would reserve judgment. She may be a very good manager, _if_ she can successfully enlist her technical people to work together. (From what I hear this may not be a Microsoft characteristic, but hey.)

The best manager I ever had came from a prototype production management group, taking over a demoralized engineering group (the previous manager was a tinpot dictator, and was tossed out after a sexual harassment suit, which was well deserved.) The first thing she said was, "I know that you folks know what you are doing, and want to do the best job you can. My job is to help you do that - to provide the tools and environment you need, and to intercede and work with other managers when you have problems with other groups." She was supportive and allowed us to do the right thing technically, using a consensus approach. I learned a lot about management from her. I have used various forms of consensus methods to allow my groups to work out the best technical solution. This has generally resulted in excellent morale, excellent products often under budget and early.

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Clouds gathering on horizon for software devs, say wise men

Gary Bickford

SW will just move to a higher level

EEs have been trying to work themselves out of a job for 100 years, by coming up with every faster, more integrated parts. But each improvement increases the utility of the products, so EEs just move to the next higher level f integration. Once it was plugging tubes or transistors together to make a flip-flop. Now it's wiring several million flip-flops (in the form of a CPU chip) together with another several billion flip-flops (in the form of memory chips).

Similarly, in my early days it took a fair amount of work to do simple arithmetic in Assembler. Now I work almost exclusively with scripting/dynamic languages with JIT compilation in a distributed environment. In my SW QA workshop we explored the truism that a 'good' programmer produces about the same number of lines of working, tested, QA'd code per day regardless of the level of language - from machine code, Assembler, C, Perl/Python/PHP/Javascript/whatever, to SQL, to whatever comes next. We just manipulate ever larger, more integrated objects. Software is essentially the structured management of complexity, and complexity is a scale-free measure. So maybe by 2022 we'll be writing self-modifying programs that interact with robots working in the asteroids, but the complexity and the constant environmental change that requires new code will still be there. (Actually by then I'll undoubtedly be sailing my boat into the sunset by then - but there will be others.)

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SpaceX launch put off for a week

Gary Bickford

Being the first trip, it makes sense to be excessively careful. They _really_ don't want to mess this up. Consider that NASA built an entire space shuttle (Enterprise) for in-atmosphere testing of flight, landing, etc. Just to make sure that the theory and the practice are as close as possible to the same.

I get the impression that it's not NASA but Space-X taking this delay, in which case good for them. They are taking the responsibility of being sure, not just doing another test because NASA wants them too. We all know what happens when we build and ship software to a schedule, rather than "when it's done".

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'Asteroid mining company' makes classic hypegasm debut today

Gary Bickford

My 2c: This is one more example of many recent ones, of the essential genius of the 'American' success story - although I don't for a minute think this will be an American-only adventure. But those who settled in America came here because they were willing to risk themselves, their families, everything, to leap into the unknown. For a while we used the US government as our vehicle to express our ever-outward way of looking at things, but now at last we have begun to think of the 'space race' no longer in terms of one government vs. another, but instead of many individual entities, sponsored by many different institutions, truly 'going where no man has gone before'. China, Russia, US, India governments will no longer be competing with just each other, but with hundreds of entrepreneurs cooperating and competing. Soon the governments will be too busy regulating to bother competing.

And, I predict, in not too many years the U.N. will have to establish an orbital 'Coast Guard' to enforce rules of transit, maintain short term orbital priorities, handle rescues of vessels and people, and prevent/reduce pollution of orbital, lunar and near-Earth space.

As for the mining aspects, I figured out a while back that, in addition to the well-described water ideas above, asteroid metals will be most valuable in constructing and expanding the infrastructure in space. A single nickel-iron asteroid of a few hundred feet in diameter, plus a similar amount of carbonaceous asteroid, could provide the materials for a huge number of steel vessels.

One area that has been only slightly researched is pure-vacuum microgravity manufacturing of various electronic and exotic materials. There will be research centers (private or public?) in orbit and on the Moon. The cost of dropping such products down to Earth would be small relative to their value. (How easy is it to make large sheets of graphene in microgravity? Nobody knows.) And there will undoubtedly be whole categories of new materials and products that can only be made in that environment, or on the Moon. So there is some hope for a reasonable trade balance in the long run.

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Apple sued for every touchscreen device by Flatworld prof

Gary Bickford

Heck, we were all talking about "wouldn't it be cool if we could ..." multi-touch back in the 1980s, but the hardware tech wasn't there to make it feasible at the time. There was some successful work in (IIRC) the late 80s to allow 'brush strokes' that depended on the area of contact on a tablet. As noted above, this advance wasn't all that big. However, his methodology to make it possible might have been significant.

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Dutch birdman admits flight was filmic fantasy

Gary Bickford

I predict someone will make it true within two years

(Actually I think one year might be enough). First, background: in this article <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/09/23/the-first-ever-flight-of-a-pedal-powered-wing-flapping-vehicle/">http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/09/23/the-first-ever-flight-of-a-pedal-powered-wing-flapping-vehicle/</a> documents a successful human-powered ornithopter flight driven by a bicycle linkage. Human powered flight is using at best about 1.2 KW of power. So that is a reasonable minimum constraint. Let's use 3 KW as a reasonable minimum power-augmented system.

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation. I looked this up: a 2400 watt-hour lithium battery (cost $3000) weighs about 40 lbs. I don't know if they are the right kind, but 750 watt servo motors weigh about 7 lbs. each, so four of them would be about 30 lbs. Assume a wing span area similar to that of an ultralight (but probably a different shape) I figure another four smaller servo motors, so add another 30 lbs. for those plus miscellaneous wiring, controls, sensors, etc. for a total weight of about 100 lbs. plus that of the rider.

I assume that the control systems are just an engineering and software question. There are some interesting physics challenges in the framework to prevent the guy whose arms are stretched out from having them bent backwards and ripped from their sockets. But the ability to build an ornithopter airframe that carries 300 lbs. of rider-plus-power is essentially proven.

So, bottom line - this is a reasonable high school or college physics or engineering class exercise. I hope to see successful prototypes within a year or two, and commercial versions in another year or two. The movie maker was smarter than he knew - he has single-handedly invented, or at least inspired, a new sport. Within a few years folks will have perfected these systems to the point where birdlike flare landings and wing folding systems will be available.

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PARIS soars to Guinness World Record

Gary Bickford

Harrumph!

Sorry to be a stuffed shirt about this, but all along I've been of the opinion that PARIS, wonderful as it is and an accomplishment to be proud of, is a model airplane but not, IMHO, a 'paper airplane'. Paper airplanes are folded out of one, possibly two, pieces of paper - not constructed out of numerous frames and such like a real airplane. And glue is right out. A paperclip or two for balance, and tape in a few judiciously selected spots would be OK. And I would be generous enough to allow some extra tape to hold the electronics package in place.

Back in my misspent youth, my brother and I built a real paper airplane about six feet long, made in the traditional way, and flew it off the top of a water tower. So it's certainly possible to build a real paper airplane in the size necessary to carry camera and transmitter etc. It would require some engineering studies, such as how to use folds to provide stiffness and dynamically stable flight.

So, congrats, but I think there is still room for a record-breaking attempt with a real origami-style paper airplane. And I hope you folks take up this challenge for your next try! :D

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HP's Whitman suggests Googorola may close Android

Gary Bickford

More power to Meg

I hope it works out. Perhaps Meg is what HP has bee looking for - a leader with both executive capability and vision. I had been putting off getting a new phone for months, waiting to see if the new one had proper hardware to match the OS, when the cancellation came. And I missed the TouchPad firesale (by about 40 seconds, apparently). I may pick one up on E-bay and make some guy a quick $200 profit. I don't even need a tablet, particularly but I'd like to try the TouchPad.

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Spacemen urge NASA to build nuke ship for Mars trip

Gary Bickford

LTFR reactor would minimize potential radiation issues

I don't know if they would work as well as Uranium reactors, but if a nuclear rocket could be based on the LTFR molten salt reactor, nearly all the fissile material could be Thorium, which presents a much smaller risk of radioactive contamination in the event of a catastrophic failure. This might obviate one of the major objections to nuclear rockets.

If I understand correctly, the ability of a nuclear reactor to provide the necessary energy for a long period of time with a small fuel mass means that a much larger amount of propellant (the stuff shipped out the back) could be carried instead of chemical fuel. This means that a long, slow thrust could be used instead of the present method of maximum thrust for a very short time.

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