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* Posts by Clive Harris

92 posts • joined 1 May 2007

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Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders

Clive Harris

Another stupid obvious patent

Nothing to do with the Apple/Samsung lawsuit, but this morning I stumbled upon another equally stupid patent: http://www.cooperindustries.com/content/dam/public/bussmann/Electronics/Resources/product-notices/bus-elx-powerstor-active-balance-royalty-note.pdf

Apparently, someone has patented the idea of using an op amp and divider chain to split a power rail. They're patenting the idea of putting big capacitors on the output. But it's OK, you don't have to pay royalties if you only use their brand of capacitors.

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GRAV WAVE TSUNAMI boffinry BONANZA – the aftershock of the universe's Big Bang

Clive Harris
Happy

Re: Yay for boffins!!

>>I once had a conversation with a professor of astrophysics in which he said* that the study of physics was the best occupation because it disclosed the work of God.<<

I've always thought Engineering was best, because we're continuing the work of creation.

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Clive Harris

Re: Science: Eleventy Billion! Religion: 0

As I understand it (the maths is a bit beyond me, so I may not be quite right), the "inflationary" phase in the expansion of the early universe requires a brief period of NEGATIVE gravity, hence the rapid expansion. Since General Relativity says that acceleration and gravity are more or less the same thing, this means that the effect on time dilation works the other way round i.e. time slows down instead of speeding up. Also, I think the physicist was speculating on how it would appear if the Observer (capital letter intended) was outside of ALL universes, instead of just living in another "nearby" one.

I suppose the only way you can get your head around that is by visualising the entire multiverse as a giant computer simulation. Perhaps we really are trapped inside The Matrix!

By the way, since we have a "devil" icon, could someone come up with a suitable "opposite" one (an angel, perhaps) to cover this type of posting.

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Clive Harris

Re: Science: Eleventy Billion! Religion: 0

Err ..Not so fast. A while ago I came across an interesting argument by a maverick Israeli physicist (I forget his name). I didn't understand all the details but essentially he calculated the spacetime dilation resulting from the extreme acceleration that the early universe encountered during this rapid inflation phase. It is well known that extreme acceleration does funny things to time and his estimate was that time would be "stretched" by a factor of approximately 10^12.

The age of the universe is generally set at somewhere around 13 to 16 billion years, depending on who you ask.This "stretching" means that the true age of of the universe, as seen by an "outsider" (Whoever that may be), must be divided by this "stretching" factor. What do you get when you divide 16 billion years by 10^12? Well, near as dammit, it's 6 days.

Religion: Eleventy Billion! Science: Also Eleventy Billion! (because they seem to agree!)

Of course, if the actual age of the universe was only 13 billion years then I suppose that means God got to knock off early on the last day.

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Star Wars movie to start shooting in UK this summer

Clive Harris

Star Wars is a remake of The Dambusters!

Has anyone else noticed that the original Star Wars movie was mostly a sci-fi remake of The Dambusters. Consider the opening credits - flying through the sky to the sound of a stirring orchestral march. OK, they updated it a bit by using stars instead of clouds and it was a different orchestra, but otherwise it was essentially the same. Then there is the main theme of the movie. A heroic bombing raid to destroy a vital enemy asset by trying to drop a new weapon onto an impossibly small target whilst under heavy fire. Have a look at the two movies and decide for yourself. I wonder if they had to pay royalties to 617 squadron?

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Tinfoil hats proven useless by eleven-year mobe radiation study

Clive Harris
Black Helicopters

Perhaps there's something in it.

Many years ago (back in the early '90s) I was involved in a joint industry/academic study on developing mobile phone technologies, sponsored by the UK government. There were several teams, each working on different problems and each based at a university. My team was at Southampton, (my "alma mater"), studying call handover requirements for very small cell sizes. We all went up to London once a year for a joint conference to see what the other teams were up to.

One of the teams was studying the effects of mobile phone radiation on the human head. To do this, they constructed a (rather ghoulish) model of a head, using materials with similar dimensions and dielectric properties to real brain, bone and muscle tissue.

The results they reported at the first joint conference were interesting. In the 900MHz band there was little absorption of energy. However, at 1800MHz, their model formed a resonant cavity. Effectively, a standing wave was formed betwen the ears, with current peaks around the ears and a voltage peak around the centre of the skull. They stressed that their results were very "preliminary" and needed further work.

At the next conference, a year later, we eagerly awaited the results of their further research. That team didn't turn up - their funding had been terminated. Now, I'm not saying that they found something nasty which was being deliberately hidden. It may be they had made serious mistakes and were closed down because they weren't up to the job, or any of several other innocent causes, but it's left me worried ever since.

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Random car shutdowns force Toyota to recall Prius hybrids - AGAIN

Clive Harris

Hydraulic power steering failure

I can't agree with the A/C on the reliability of hydraulic power steering. I have had a failure on a hydraulic power steering system. It was a Citroen, one of the ones with the high-pressure hydraulics. A seal blew out, which caused the power assist to fail in one direction, so it had the effect of pulling the car to one side. It happened in a snowstorm, so it was quite frightening at the time.

I'm currently driving a Prius, but it's a Mk2, so it's not affected by the latest recall. It's got 150000 miles on the clock, it's going fine, and it's the only car I've had which has never broken down on me. (And that includes a brand-new Mercedes which stopped dead on the M25 after spitting out a fuel injector)

As a completely irrevelent side issue, yesterday I took the Prius to a local independent dealer to have brake fluid changed (a tricky job which I didn't want to do myself). He refused on the grounds that he "didn't have a licence to work on electric cars". What the ***!

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Volunteers slam plans to turn Bletchley Park into 'geeky Disneyland'

Clive Harris

Re: Polish cryptographers!! My father worked on it

My father worked on the Polish coding machine. As a young apprentice draughtsman, he was given the job of preparing engineering drawings based on one of the first machines smuggled out of Poland. The work was done in top secret with an armed guard permanently at the door. He had to hand all materials and documents to the guard when he left the room and he was told he would be put up against a wall and shot if he ever mentioned what he saw in that room. Even in the 1990's he was nervous about telling me about it. He described it as looking like a small typewriter with some numbered wheels on it.

Because of this job, and what he had seen in that room, he was forbidden from doing active service in the forces overseas afterwards, due to the risk of capture (although he did his share of air raid duty in London)

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Oil execs, bankers: You'll need this 'bulletproof carbon-nanotube-built' BUSINESS SUIT

Clive Harris
FAIL

Re: They can still get shot... like Ned Kelly

All Australians know the story of Ned Kelly and his gang. After murdering a policeman, they holed up in his mother's house, where they took several days making their iconic suits of armour out of old boiler panels, while the police waited for them outside. When they emerged with guns blazing, the police waited till they could get a clear view and then shot them all in the feet, before dragging them off to the gallows.

Such is life! (Supposedly Ned Kelly's last words)

PS. How about adding a Ned Kelly icon

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Clive Harris
Coat

The Man in the White Suit

If it's white, slightly radioactive and the cloth has to be cut with an oxy-acetylene torch then Alec Guinness has beaten them to it. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044876/

Seem to remember it had the slight disadvantage that it "destabilised" after a few weeks.

(Careful, the coat's radioactive)

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Australian pub to serve beers for bitcoin

Clive Harris

Re: Australian place names

<<'Cause we all call Wagga Wagga Wagga, but we don't call Woy Woy Woy!>>

Actually it's pronounced "Wogga Wogga"

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Clive Harris
Happy

Australian place names

There's plenty of Australian place names worse than that. Just a few miles from me there's Koo Wee Rup and Nar Nar Goon. On the way to work I drive past Ernst Wanke Road. I've visited Suggan Buggan and Numbugga, but I haven't yet been to Wagga Wagga or Humpty Doo. They're all genuine places, I assure you. Look them up if you don't believe me.

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Legal bible Groklaw pulls plug in wake of Lavabit shutdown, NSA firestorm

Clive Harris
Big Brother

There's more - that she's not saying

It's obvious something has happened to Pamela which has scared the living daylights out of her, and that she can't talk about. Maybe she's forbidden to say, or maybe she doesn't dare, so she's just dropping hints about burglaries and intercepted emails.

Through Groklaw, she's made a lot of enemies, powerful and ruthless people who have lost a lot of money, because she helped to expose what they were up to. People who can pull strings in high places.

Everyone is susceptible to blackmail. Maybe someone's dug up something from her past. Maybe one of her family members is being threatened. Whatever it is, it's big enough to silence her.

With Groklaw out of the way, expect a massive onslaught of attacks against open-source software, and any other form of free expression, at any moment, and with no-one to tell the other side of the story. Truly, we are living in troubled times!

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KABOOOM! Space-faring dwarf's galactic pile-up snapped by X-ray boffins

Clive Harris
Holmes

Re: A Scientific Temperature in degrees Fahrenheit; WTF!

Actually, Fahrenheit is a pretty good scale for everyday use. Zero is the point where the sea freezes (i.e. it's too cold to go out), and 100 is when you're a bit ill* (i.e. you'd better stay at home) . So, between 0 and 100 you can venture out, outside of that range it's best to stay at home.

* To be exact, 100F is the body temperature of Mr Fahrenheit's daughter, who happened to have a slight fever when he used her to calibrate his thermometer.

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Clive Harris
Headmaster

DEGREES Kelvin?

There's no such thing as a DEGREE Kelvin!. It's an absolute scale, so it's just a KELVIN.

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Boeing batteries back under spotlight as 787 burns at Heathrow

Clive Harris
Flame

Re: Comets and bean-counters

In a sense, the Comet crashes were the result of penny-pinching. The engineers had come up with an elaborate (and expensive) technique for fixing the panels together which involved chemical bonding, drilling and riveting. The bean-counters then stepped in and decided to cut costs. After all, we're joining two bits of metal together. What's complicated about that? What could possibly go wrong? Their solution was to omit the chemical bonding and then bang in a load of self-piercing rivets (basically nailing it together). Sure they left a few cracks around the sides of the rivets, but think of all the money saved! Of course, when it all came apart at 35000 feet, the engineers got blamed for not anticipating this, and not building in enough margin of strength to allow for it.

Any engineer who's been around for a while designing things will know how infuriating it is when the bean-counters decide to alter your perfect design in the interests of cost-saving, convinced they know better than you, and with no idea of the technical implications of the changes they're making. Usually the consequences are not quite as disastrous, but I've had cases where a design of mine was made positively dangerous because a bean-counter replaced a safety-critical part with something cheaper (and which the sales rep said was "just as good").

(I'm starting to get hot under the collar about this, so I think I'd better use the "Fire" icon)

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Clive Harris
Happy

LiPo batteries

>>I use LiPo batteries for model boats and aircraft. They are well understood to be dangerous<<

Well yes, Polonium (Po) is rather dodgy stuff.

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Snowden dodges US agents in Moscow, skips out on flight

Clive Harris
Black Helicopters

"Those who make the law have no need to break it"- G K Chesterton

"Those who make the law have no need to break it."

G K. Chesterton

(Quoted from one of his short stories - I forget which one)

In other words, if you've got the power then you can just change the rules whenever you need to.

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Paul Allen buys lovingly restored vintage V-2 Nazi ballistic missile

Clive Harris
Mushroom

19th century V1 "victim"

There's a story in my family about one of my ancestors who was blown up by a V1 despite having died around 1850. Apparantly it landed in the graveyard and "relocated" his remains.

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Maggie Thatcher: The Iron Lady who saved us from drab Post Office mobes

Clive Harris

"Australia needs a good dose of Margaret Thatcher"

Some 13 years ago I applied for our family to emigrate to Australia (driven out of the UK by "Red Dawn" Primerola's IR35 pogrom). The doctor who did our immigration medicals had just returned to the UK from Australia, so I asked him why he had decided to come back. He was reluctant to say anything at first, but eventually blurted out his reason: "Australia is OK but it needs a good dose of Margaret Thatcher".

Having arrived in Australia, I found the solution to one mystery - what had happened to all the union bosses driven out by Thatcher? Answer, they'd all settled in Australia! For many years afterwards I kept hearing those familiar Northern England accents on the news, announcing the latest bout of industrial action.

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Amazon boss salvages Apollo engines from watery grave

Clive Harris
Headmaster

" Each of the five engines fired for just 165 seconds"

I think you'll find it was 155 seconds (2 minutes, 35 seconds). As schoolboys in that era we memorised such figures by heart. The first stage engines had a combined thrust of 7500000 lbs and burned propellant at 1000 tons/minute (no metrication in those days), meaning that the first stage got through more than 2500 tons of fuel before separating.

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Dalek designer Ray Cusick passes away aged 84

Clive Harris
Headmaster

The real "Daleks" are the squidgy things inside the pepperpots

Just to be pedantic - the "Daleks" or "Dalek people" (as they were called when first introduced) are not the pepperpots themselves, but the shapeless squidgy things inside them. The story varies but, according to a very early episode, they were reduced to this state by a nuclear accident. The pepperpots are simply motorised wheelchairs to enable them to get around. Since the accident also left them very bad-tempered, they had their wheelchairs fitted with death-rays, armour plating and various similar useful accessories.

The Tardis itself was an ingenious way of getting by on a very restricted budget. They couldn't afford to get a realistic-looking spaceship (timeship?) made up, so they made do with whatever they could find in the props store, and then adapted the story around it. They found the wooden 'phone box in there, so they made up a story about a ship that changed its appearance to blend with the surroundings - except that the appearance-changing mechanism had broken and was stuck in 1960's England. Sometimes, an inadequate budget, together with a lot of ingenuity, can actually improve the story, as well as making it more durable.

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British, Belgian boffins battle buffering bandwidth bogeyman

Clive Harris

Bufferbloat?

That sounds like "bufferbloat" - something Robert Cringely has been writing about for years.

See:

http://www.cringely.com/2011-predictions-one-word-bufferbloat-or-is-that-two-words-2286/

http://www.cringely.com/2011-prediction-4-bufferbloat-may-be-terrible-but-your-cable-isp-wont-fix-it-2318/

http://www.cringely.com/beginning-of-the-end-for-bufferbloat-4087/

etc. etc

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Senator threatens FAA with legislation over in-flight fondleslabbing

Clive Harris
Happy

My own experience...

This is a repeat of a message I posted a couple of years ago on the same topic, but I think it's still relevant.

...taking my daughter for a ride in a light aircraft and waiting for take-off clearance at a busy airport.

Me: "Control Tower. Piper Cherokee Papa Delta Echo is ready for take-off"

Tower: "Papa Delta Echo you are BEEPBEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZ CRACKLE WHIRR"

Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Say again"

Tower (distinctly annoyed): "Papa Delta BEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZBUZZ, please expedite."

At that point, I glanced at my daughter in the passenger seat, to see her having a vital "heart-to-heart" conversation with her boyfriend on her mobile. I shouted to her to stow the darn thing.

Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Sorry, getting interference. Say again".

Tower (extremely annoyed): "Papa Delta Echo BEEP BUZZZZZZZZ ... for immediate, repeat immediate take-off."

Me: "OK I think that's a clearance". Takes off.

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Boffins spot 7 ALIEN WORLDS right in our galactic backyard

Clive Harris
Alien

It could have been worse.

William Herschel, who discovered the planet, wanted to name it after the king of England (to secure his pension, I suppose). It could have ended up as planet "George".

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Help-desk hell

Clive Harris

Re: "My computer is possessed by the Devil"

Yes, I know what you mean. It looked like the J. R. "Bob" Dobbs image from Slackware. I think Read Hat had swiped it from them. Basically, Xflame allowed you to include an image and would then show it burning in a fireplace. Originally I think it was intended to include a Yule log or similar, but then people got creative.

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Clive Harris
Devil

"My computer is possessed by the Devil"

About ten years ago I had a frantic phone call from a woman saying that her computer had been "possessed by the Devil". Could I come round immediately, preferably with a priest?

The machine was running Red Hat linux. When I got there (alone - where are priests when you need them in a hurry?), the computer was sitting on its own in a darkened room - the woman was too frightened to go near it. I started it up and waited. After about ten minutes, the screen went blank and then slowly filled with an image of flames. A large grinning head slowly rose up out of the flames - it was smoking a pipe, but I didn't notice at the time. It gave me quite a start in that darkened room.

It was, of course, the Xflame screensaver in its default configuration. I removed Xflame and several other "problematic" screensavers, and assured her that the computer had been thoroughly exorcised. I decided not to mention anything about the daemons and zombies that were still infesting the machine.

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Nazi Enigma encoding machine sells in London for over £80k

Clive Harris
Big Brother

Re: Polish Enigma mechine

There may be something in this. My father once told me how he had the job of preparing engineering drawings for a Polish Engima machine, based on a sample smuggled out of Poland. He was a 16-year-old apprentice draughtsman at the time. It was a top secret project at a secret location, there were armed guards at the door all the time he was working there, and he was forbidden to ever talk about it on pain of death.

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Dyson alleges spy stole 'leccy motor secrets for Bosch

Clive Harris

Getting spares for Dyson products

Are you able to get spare parts for Dyson products? I'm told that over here in Australia they have a policy of refusing to supply spares to customers. I don't have any Dyson products myself, but one of my colleagues experienced this problem recently. This is done on the spurious grounds that "only a licenced electrician is allowed to repair a vacuum cleaner". That may possibly be true in some states - there are some rather crazy laws around here - but Australians are not renowned for being law-abiding (That's why most of us are here!). It's more likely an excuse to jack up the cost of repairs. If spares are freely available in the UK then there probably a good "grey market" opportunity for some enterprising UK person to supply parts to Australian users.

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Space Jam: stripped bolt bugs spacewalkers

Clive Harris

Err.. Wasn't that the one that fell down?

.. according to the excruciating poetry of William McGonnagall.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!

Alas! I am very sorry to say

That ninety lives have been taken away

On the last Sabbath day of 1879,

Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

etc..etc..

(it get even worse later)

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Hot nine-incher pulled by Dick

Clive Harris
Alert

No joke - it nearly killed a child

A young child was badly burned when one of these blew up in her face.

See here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/exploding-dvd-player-leaves-threeyearold-with-severe-burns-20120801-23ec1.html

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My dad found the Higgs boson! Reminiscences of a CERN kid

Clive Harris
Mushroom

Do nuclear physicists only have daughters?

It's a common observation that RF engineers father a much higher proportion of girls to boys. Reading this I wonder if that's true of nuclear physicists as well. It's quite likely that both would be exposed to strange forms of radiation at work, so there could be a connection. I don't work with RF or other radiation now, but I certainly did in my younger days, back when safety rules were more relaxed. I frequently stood in the near fields of transmitters, I once stood on top of a nuclear reactor (the Dounreay PFR), and I can honestly say that I once held a (very small) piece of plutonium in my hand. That could explain my two daughters and no sons. Have any statistical surveys been done at CERN?

(Nuclear fireball because it seems appropriate)

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Spain donates Enigma gear that kick-started Brit code-breaking

Clive Harris
Big Brother

Wartime story

Reminds me of a story my father once told me about his wartime experiences. He was a young draughtsman, fresh out of college, doing "secret stuff" for the govennment. One day he was told to collect his draughting tools and accompany a soldier to a secret location. Then he was ushered into a room with armed guards at the door, and told to make full engineering drawings of the "thing" in the room. After finishing, he had to hand the drawings to one of the guards and then forget that the incident had ever occurred (on pain of death).

He described the "thing" to me as being a bit like a typewriter, but incorporating a series of numbered wheels. Even in the 1980's he was nervous about talking about it.

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Americans resort to padlocking their dumb meters

Clive Harris
Flame

Smart meter safety in Australia

They're rolling out (compulsary) smart electricity meters here in Australia and they keep catching fire due to dodgy installation. Now that's definitely harmful to your health!

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'Satnavs are definitely not doomed', insists TomTom man

Clive Harris
Happy

Map and compass!

Learn to navigate with a map and compass. They never break down and could save your life one day.

I went off GPS after a bad experience flying a light aircraft to a small island off the coast of Australia. About 30 miles out to sea the (aircraft-grade) GPS packed up on me without warning. The ADF (radio-nav) had already died and radar cover is virtually useless in those parts, so I was left with just a map and the aircraft's compass, surrounded by an awfully big ocean. Fortunately I knew how to use them, and found the island, and its airfield, without difficulty.

Don't rely on modern gadgets. You never know when they'll let you down.

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Samsung says Apple lifted iPad from Kubrick's 2001

Clive Harris

Dr Haywood Floyd had a newspad

If you read the book, which came out soon after the movie, there's an episode where Dr Floyd (the scientist who gives the talk on the moonbase) is reading his newspad whilst on the shuttle flight to the moon. He is described as subscribing to many of the news services, so he's having to pay to see the content.

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Gerard Depardieu takes piss on plane, gets tossed off

Clive Harris

He has my sympathy

I was caught in a similar situation at Heathrow a couple of years ago. I'd had too many cups of coffee while waiting to board and then, after boarding, the aeroplane got stuck in a very long queue waiting to take off (nearly 45 minutes).

Fortunately, my seat was next to the toilets. I unfastened my seatbelt, dashed to the cubicle and locked the door before the stewardess could react. Within a minute I was back in my seat, buckled in and feeling relieved but rather embarrassed (everyone was watching me). The aeroplane had moved forward about 10 feet in the meantime.

The stewardess gave me a dirty look but decided not to make a fuss. That was Qantas. Perhaps they expect that sort of thing from Australians.

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Google points finger at human after robo car accident

Clive Harris
Happy

Plural of "Prius"

It's at times like this when you need to know the plural of "Prius". Apparently, it's "Priori".

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IATA: this iPad could BRING DOWN A PLANE

Clive Harris

"Swiss Cheese" model

Aircraft safety is managed through a "Swiss Cheese" model. You accept that every layer of safety, however carefully implemented, will have holes in it, like a slice of Swiss cheese. You can't catch them all, so you add layer after layer, making the cheese thicker, to minimise the chance of any of the holes going right through.

There are procedures in place to minimise the use of mobile phones (one layer), systems to (hopefully) shield the aircraft systems from the mobile phones (another layer), backup procedures in case an aircraft system fails (another layer) and so on. Removing one layer will not necessarily cause a disaster - it just eats into the safety margin. However, if one of the other layers is already compromised (a tired technician forgot to secure some shielding, or a sleepy pilot didn't respond to an alarm), then you've got the makings of an accident.

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Clive Harris
Happy

My own experience...

...taking my daughter for a ride in a light aircraft and waiting for take-off clearance at a busy airport.

Me: "Control Tower. Piper Cherokee Papa Delta Echo is ready for take-off"

Tower: "Papa Delta Echo you are BEEPBEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZ CRACKLE WHIRR"

Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Say again"

Tower (distinctly annoyed): "Papa Delta BEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZBUZZ, please expedite."

At that point, I glanced at my daughter in the passenger seat, to see her having a vital "heart-to-heart" conversation with her boyfriend on her mobile. I shouted to her to stow the darn thing.

Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Sorry, getting interference. Say again".

Tower (extremely annoyed): "Papa Delta Echo BEEP BUZZZZZZZZ ... for immediate, repeat immediate take-off."

Me: "OK I think that's a clearance". Takes off.

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Blimp fireball disaster in Germany, Aussie pilot killed

Clive Harris
Thumb Up

Captain goes down with the ship.

Sad, but true. That's how it should be, and it's what they teach (or should teach) at flying school. In an emergency, the commander is always the last one off, and, if that means "going down with the ship", then so be it. If he'd jumped, then, firstly, it's possible that some of the passengers might not have had time to get out. Secondly, the burning wreckage could have travelled a lot further before coming down. As it was, it came down in a field, with no other loss of life.

Having said that, it still takes a lot of courage to do what's required when the crunch comes. We should salute a hero who did his duty to the end. "Greater love has no man ...etc etc". You know the rest.

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Desktop Linux: the final frontier

Clive Harris
Linux

Modelsim

The interesting thing is that demo copies of the cheap windows version of Modelsim (Modelsim PE) and, (so I'm told) cracked versions, work perfectly on Linux using Wine or Codeweavers. It actually runs a lot faster than under windows. Apparently the only part which doesn't work is the licence manager.

This probably explains their unwillingness to release an official Linux version. It would run almost as fast as the Windows version of their very expensive flagship product Modelsim SE, thereby undercutting its market.

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Clive Harris
Linux

Linux penetration in the office

Perhaps my like of work is not typical (electronic design), but the Linux penetration where I currently work is around 20%-25%. At my last job I would estimate it around 10% to 15%.

Linux usage seems to be concentrated mostly amongst the software people, probably because a lot of the hardware design tools are still difficult or expensive to run in anything except windows. For example, the cheapest Linux version of Modelsim (an FPGA design tool) is about three times the price of the cheapest Windows version (but about 10 times faster). There doesn't seem to be a Linux version of Altium yet (a circuit design tool that I use a lot). This is a pity, because Altium tends to be quite brutal in the way it treats the computer, crashing several times a day when driven hard, and usually bringing Windows down with it. I think it would run much better under a decent "industrial-strength" OS like Linux. I'm currently trying to persuade my boss to let me try it in a Virtual Machine under Ubuntu, so only the VM goes down and I don't waste half the morning trying to recover the lost work from the latest crash.

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Australia cuts solar subsidies, and not before time

Clive Harris

It's crazy

I first arrived in Australia about 11 years ago, having just sold a very nice house in leafy Surrey (a victim of IR35), and started looking for somewhere to live in Australia. It turned out that, since I was buying my first house in Australia, I qualified for a " first home buyer's grant". Around $7000 in those days, although it later went up to $14000. If I'd been smarter, I could have got a second grant for my father, who emigrated with us.

Last year, to combat the recession, the government gave all taxpayers a $900 handout to spend as we chose. Most people got an imported plasma TV with it, which probably helped the economies of Taiwan and Korea a lot.

All this probably explains our 48% income tax rate.

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Honda Jazz Hybrid

Clive Harris

@Graham Bartlett

Yes, I agree with all you said. The engineering challenge is enormous, with a lot of complex, subtle problems. It reminds me a bit of the early development of the jet engine - simple in concept, but fiendishly difficult to get right, yet with the bonus that, when you have got it right, you end up with a massive improvement over the earlier technology. I'm told that the first prototype Prius, when first demonstrated to the Toyota top brass, rolled about 100 yards and then locked solid! The algorithm which balanced power flow between the two electric motors went into some sort of loop, something which the computer simulations hadn't predicted.

There is also the fear of, and resistance to, anything new and unfamiliar. I was told that the first Japanese-spec Prius had to have significant changes made for the USA market to give it more familiar-sounding engine noises, with some resulting loss of efficiency. Americans didn't like an engine whose revs were computer-controlled and bore little relationship to the actual road speed. A lot of work was put into making it sound like a "normal" car. (Something which an engineer probably wouldn't think of).

That hybrid explorer sounds a bit like the Lexus RX400H which my wife recently bought (second-hand). Basically an uprated Prius powertrain with an extra 90HP electric motor bolted onto the rear axle. It's a neat way of getting 4WD without needing a prop shaft or any sort of front/rear drive splitter. It basically works as front-wheel-drive at light loads and then engages the rear axle when needed. She won't let me drive it, but she seems to like it. I doubt if she'll ever take it off-road, but it looks reasonably capable if she did. Also, apparently Top Gear hated it, so it must be good!

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Clive Harris

Not really

Ok, but it's still more complicated than a conventional transmission, and a lot more complicated than the Toyota system.

I think that the thing about the Toyota system is that, although it's mechanically simple, it's difficult to get it right. Apparently Toyota spend an enormous amount of time and money in doing that - and then patented it to the hilt (Understandably, to stop anyone else freeloading off their hard work). That's probably part of the reason Toyota's hybrids have a price premium (although it's starting to come down now) - they want to cover their R&D costs.

One criticism of the Toyota system is that the driving experience is unfamiliar, until you get used to it, which frightens off some people. (Things like engine sound, throttle response etc). The latest Prius seems to have been fitted with a fake "gearstick" to make things look more familiar (a bit silly, in my opinion).

I've heard about Honda's battery problems, but I don't think the use of Lithium Ion will solve them. This technology has an inherently short life, with wearout issues which are very difficult to overcome (they decay even when they're not being used). The alkaline technology used by Toyota is basically an environmentally-friendly development of the old NiFe/NiCd cell system (without the cadmium). These batteries last almost indefinitely when treated properly. I've had thirty-year-old NiFe cells still working OK. A big part of Toyota's work was getting that bit right, so the batteries could achieve their required lifetime. I'm hearing reports of batteries still going strong at 500000km and failure rates below 0.01%, so they seem to have succeeded there.

I've heard stories that some American company has a patent on environmentally-friendly alkaline batteries above 10 amp-hour. Apparently they're refusing to make any, or to licence anyone else to make them (an example of the broken US patent system). If it's true, it could help expain the preference for Lithium Ion, in spite of its problems.

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Clive Harris

Toyota hybrid system complex?

I keep hearing this quoted, but I don't see how you come up with the idea that Toyota's hybrid system is complex. Sure, it's difficult to understand how it works, but, mechanically, it's just about the simplest transmission of any car currently made. It consists of a simple epicyclic gear mechanism (essentially a basic differential) plus two brushless electric motors, and that's about it. The clever bit is in the electronics that controls it. It doesn't actually have a "gearbox" as such, so all the complex and wear-prone bits like clutches, gear selectors, brake bands, etc are omitted. (Reverse is selected by cross-phasing the two motors) It also swallows up the functions of the alternator and starter motor, so that's another two bits you don't need to worry about.

This Honda system seems to be an electric motor bolted onto a conventional transmission, which must make it more complicated, with a lot more bits to go wrong.

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Official: Booze prevents senile dementia

Clive Harris
Pint

I once managed to get Guinness on prescription

It was about 30 years ago and I was in hospital recovering from a bad road accident (ironically caused by a drunk driver). I needed a "high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, high-iron, high-calcium" diet to build up body mass and get the bones to set quickly. They also needed to get my guts working again. I was prescribed Guinness and cheesecake on the NHS. I doubt if they do that sort of thing nowadays.

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When one oligopoly screws another

Clive Harris
Alert

Tesla Roadster for Australia (at twice the US price)

And in a breaking piece of news, it's just been announced that the Tesla Roadster electric supercar is about to be launched in Australia. It's quoted at $206000 plus on-the-road costs. That's about twice the price of the US model. Part of that is the "luxury car" tax, and part of it is the cost of modifying it to meet the peculiar Australian type approval requirements. But a 100% markup???

http://theage.drive.com.au/motor-news/its-electric-from-0-to-100-kmh-in-4-seconds-20110110-19l4i.html

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Clive Harris

Markups by "official importers"

From what I've heard, the "official importers" are a large part of the problem. I've had this discussion several times with shopkeepers who sell mostly imported goods. The story is that they are forced to buy through these "official" sources who charge a massive markup for their services.

In one case, on a visit to England, I bought a pair of reasonably good handmade shoes for 80 pounds (around AU$125) - not cheap, but not exorbitant. A few months later, I took them to my local specialist shoe shop in Melbourne to get the heels fixed. He immediately remarked on my "$500 shoes", and asked where I had got them from. When I told him what I'd paid, he almost cried. He was paying much more than that wholesale. I immediately asked him why he didn't bypass the wholesaler and buy direct - he'd make a good profit even if he paid retail prices. His reply was that he wasn't allowed to. He'd be put out of business if he got caught, and so would the supplier who sold to him. Apparently, the manufacturers appoint a legally-enforcible "official distribution channel" for each country they export to, which must be used.

I had a similar experience with engine spares. I needed a new magneto for a small American-made agricultural engine (Briggs & Stratton). The best price I could get here was around $200. I got the part from an American online supplier for $30 plus $30 shipping. I then went back to my local shop to ask why they didn't use this supplier, and I got the same story. If they were caught, they'd be stripped of their dealership rights and forbidden to sell anything carrying the Briggs & Stratton logo (basically, just about all Australian agricultural equipment). The risk was too great.

This is not the only problem. In many cases Australia imposes stringent type-approval rules, which are deliberately kept out of step with the rest of the world (mostly to protect the local manufacturers - who are largely non-existent). This partly explains why imported cars in Australia are so late arriving and so expensive - it's not worth the manufacturers' efforts to make a special "Australian" version of everything.

However, I think a start could be made by outlawing the draconian practices of the manufacturers with their "official importer" rules, and their penalties for trying to bypass them.

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