2418 posts • joined 10 Jun 2009
Re: c as a constant
We can't observe the early history of the universe, back beyond when the electrons attached themselves to the protons to create hydrogen and what is now the cosmic microwave background radiation.
If one measures time linearly, that's almost all the way back. But if one uses a logarithmic axis measuring time since the big bang in units of Planck time, then it's almost all of it that we can't see. BTW the size of a Planck time unit involves c.
Re: No mention of Frank Tipler's time machine design?
If it really has to be infinitely long then it requires infinite mass and isn't possible.
I haven't read the paper. I'd guess that this particular infinity is there to simplify the maths by taking the z axis completely out of the equations, and one might reasonably suspect that a finite length would suffice. OTOH it's possible until someone does the maths that there might be some sort of essential instability that would develop along the z axis of any such putative time machine of any finite length.
Re: Rebuild times
On Linux you can throttle the rebuild megabytes/second rate, if you are willing to trade a slower rebuild for a greater responsiveness during the rebuild. It also prioritizes file I/O over rebuild I/O. If your workload is still seriously impacted, it suggests to me that the hardware is only marginally adequate even under ideal (non-rebuild) conditions.
Rebuild time of a RAID array with no overlying filesystem activity is simply the time to read N disks and write one. If the controller is capable of supporting all N disks streaming in parallel, for a typical 150 Mbyte/s 2Tb drive that's about 13000 seconds or ~4 hours flat-out, 8-12 hours if throttled to allow overlying filesystem activity. A whole day would suggest a bottleneck in the controller or the CPU. Soft RAID on an Atom CPU? What's the maximum rate it can calculate XORs? OTOH a decent Core-2 quad can outperform 4 SATA disk drives without breaking sweat (and still has three cores left for other work).
The number of I/O operations needed to copy a whole filesytem as files (indeed, even to read a whole filesystem as files) exceeds the number of operations needed to rebuild the underlying RAID block device (apart from the case where the filesystem is mostly empty, or partly empty with the rest made out of a small number of very large files). Also rebuilding does sequential block reading, with only one-cylinder seeks. Accessing a filesystem will tend to do random seeks in larger numbers. So there's no fundamental advantage in doing mirroring at the file level. (I'm not saying that there can't be an advantage when particular implementations are compared).
Re: Rebuild times
You get a disk failure on a hot-swap-capable RAID box and you do exactly the same. The operating system rebuilds the array in the background while you continue to use the degraded array.
Don't know which of the various home array boxes are this capable but you can build your own which is, based on a PC, Linux software RAID, hot-swap disk cage(s) and a hot-swap-capable SATA controller.
Re: "...multi-trillion dollar liabilities at the hands of the Indian government"?
Just supposing a major Indian bank went tits-up because of a complete XP-based IT failure, I wonder what the consequential death toll would be? This is India we are talking about. Lots of people surviving very close to the edge even when things are going well.
Yes, I can imagine thousands of deaths. It would just be impossible to tell, except perhaps by statistics, how many or even whether they happened.
Just like the excess deaths of elderly people in the UK in Winter over Summer, some of whom die because they can't afford the heating bills, or just because they think they can't. How many, we can't know.
Re: If it all goes wrong, just sue Microsoft
Name any equivalent software products that get nearly 13 years of support?
Red Hat Enterprise Linux. 13 years to end of extended life cycle. (for 5 and 6, both at future dates).
But the key difference is there's no vendor kill switch. If you really *have* to keep that RHEL5 system on RHEL5 until 2025 you can get hold of the open source, fix your own bugs after Red Hat won't, or pay some other organisation to do so on your behalf. It won't be cheap, but it will be possible.
I could also mention [open]VMS, still supported after 32 years, the corporate death of two former owners, and the engineering death of its two former CPU architectures.
Re: Sounds like...
Microsoft has more to lose than Union Carbide did. Suppose Microsoft did kiss its entire Indian business goodbye. Would that be the end of it? India would go Linux. Then it would start pushing Linux as an export. And the rest of the world would think that if an entire subcontinent can go Linux, why can't we?
It won't happen. Neither the April cut-off, nor Microsoft pulling out of India.
Don't you have to upgrade from 32bit XP to Vista-32 first, then 7-32, then is there a 32-bit 8? It's probably about 24 hours "work" answering the odd question every 20 minutes or so. And if you believe anything will still be working after that completes ....
There's no direct upgrade path from 32-bit XP to 64-bit Windows 7 (or 8). Why not, Microsoft only knows. It's not as if nobody wanted it. They'd even pay for it.
As for that April deadline, it's like the USA debt ceiling. I'm 99% sure they'll take it to the wire, and then announce another year's support. That'll probably happen twice. Because the world's governments aren't going to make the deadline, and they will quietly explain to Microsoft what will be the consequences to Microsoft of not providing XP updates past next April. By which I mean, punitive (multi-billion) fines for abuse of a their monopoly, and terminal loss of government contracts. If you have to do an emergency migration anyway, why not migrate to Linux, and never again be held to ransom by a monopolist's finger on the kill switch?
The major factor in play is "China and Russia (currently) like them
It's bizarre that China supports them. Look at a map of the world. Where can the North Koreans invade with their army? There's South Korea, and then there's China. And that's it.
Joseph Stalin made a similar miscalculation concerning a well-known German lunatic, but one might excuse him on the grounds that he was none too sane himself. The Chinese leadership, on the other hand....
Here's an idea
Ban any organisation from competing for projects funded out of the public purse, which is engaged in significant (amoral? immoral? ) amounts of artificial tax avoidance. Set up an independant body to scrutinise the tax arrangements of anyone submitting a tender, and to work out whether the public purse would not be better-served by awarding the contract to a different organisation that returned a greater slice of its earnings as taxes. 30 outgoing, 10 back as tax, beats 28 outgoing, 5 back as tax.
Just like the early days of banking?
These sorts of shenannigans were commonplace back when banks were small and unregulated. You put your money in, some crooks took your money out, and the bank suddenly wasn't there any more. No "too big to fail", no government guarantee, just a safe that oddly did not contain the gold that it was supposed to contain, and some bankers whose whereabouts could suddenly no longer be assertained.
Or you could hoard your gold in the privacy of your own home, and fall victim to a different class of robber or a different sort of trusted partner.
There's nothing new under the sun?
Re: "It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers"
What he means?
"I fscked up. I wanted them to be spying on all you plebs, because some of you are dangerous lunatics who fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers and plant bombs. It was kinda cool that we could keep tabs on people who simply oppose our gummint as well. But the b*stards aren't doing what we asked them to. They're spying on us as well! They're becoming a law unto themselves!! Soon, they'll mount a coup, round all of us up and shoot us!!!!
the Linux world (for comparison)
In the world of Linux and Free software it's been a non-issue for a long while. You can run stuff locally. Or you can run stuff on a remote server with X display across the network. And there's actually not much difference between a thin client and a desktop PC ... they're both systems running Linux.
The key hardware issue is network bandwidth. In theory a Gbit LAN can transfer data at 120Mbytes/second, which is about the same as a hard drive (but considerably inferior to an SSD). In practice there are bottlenecks. As for network X-serving, the difference in bandwidth is far more noticeable if (and only if) your work necessarily involves interaction with moving imagery (especially interaction with 3D models). The CPU to GPU / Graphics card bandwidth is enormous compared even to a dedicated flat-out Gbit LAN.
But most office-pushers could be on thin clients were it not for the baroque tangle of Windows licensing. Go Linux + Libreoffice on thin clients and a fat server and LAN!
What the moon DOES do for us
The moon stabilizes the axis of rotation of the earth, allowing for less extreme winter/summer climate fluctuations (on a timescale of O(10^5) years. It's also possible that lunar tidal drag is critical for maintaining the geo-dynamo, without which the solar wind would have stripped Earth's atmosphere leaving this planet like a hotter Mars. This latter is speculative, because the workings of the geo-dynamo are not well-understood (It's very hard to take a closer look at it :-)
Re: Its a history of the moon saving our butts ....
If 4 billion years is accurate, the Earth wasn't even solid then.
The oldest dated terrestrial rocks are 3.8 billion years old. The oldest terrestrial zircon crystals are 4.3 billion years old. (Zircons crystallize out in even white-hot magma. They are harder than just about anything except diamond so they survive all subsequent geological processes except deep re-melting. Zircon can contain Uranium but not Lead impurities at formation, which allows accurate radio-isotope dating - any Lead in a Zircon must have started as Uranium when the zircon crystallized.)
Re: D'Oh @Nigel 19:00
@sandtitz 15:07 Evidence ... with the possible exception of proprietary languages where Microsoft or some other party will not permit development of a LInux compiler, can you tell me any language for which a compiler or interpreter exists on Windows but not on Linux?
A lot of scientific codes are still written in FORTRAN (which didn't stop being developed in -77 as some folks believe, and which does retain certain advantages over C/C++ whatever the C bigots say). Linux has free f95. Windows has ... well, you can persuade f95 to run in the Cygwin LInux-emulation environment. But if you're going down that route I'd recommend just running Linux proper in a free-beer VMware Player VM instead.
It's not just the languages but the libraries. If the libraries your code needs are available on Linux and not on Windows, do you really think someone whose primary motivation is science research is going to want to volunteer to port them and shake out the resulting bugs? In which case the fact that Microsoft makes its compilers free-beer (not free-open) accessible to parts of academia subject to certain restrictions, is of little relevance.
BTW we're not talking little libraries here and little programs here!
A lot of visualisation codes are written for X-windows. Yes, you can run a free X environment atop MS Windows. But it's inferior on the performance front, and these codes tend to need all the performance they can get.
The reason for preferring Linux is usually that they need to run research codes which are written to run on Linux. That in turn is at least in part because the Linux environment is open and provides a wide range of free programming tools, whereas the Windows environment is closed and does not. Also in most cases the desktop is the front-end to the computer cluster running Linux. Using Windows as a front-end would be somewhat perverse. (I do know one person who works that way! ).
A few mostly European-mainland students do turn up knowing Linux, and Windows not at all. If your personal notebook runs Linux you are hardly likely to choose a Windows desktop!
A large number (and growinfg proportion) have Macbooks as their personal system and ask for huge iMacs, but unless they have unusually good funding the budget doesn't stretch far enough for big Apples.
The reason is that the Windows 8 user interface is not appreciated in a positive way, and that's putting it mildly.
As for why we buy them PCs rather than inviting them to BYOD ... sometimes I wonder myself. Some of them definitely do require hardware well above the usual desktop PC for displaying folding proteins, molecular dynamics, that sort of thing. (Computing that sort of thing uses large clusters of PCs in a server room ... just displaying the results is demanding). Maybe with others the hardware is wasted.
On the support side of the desk, it is far easier and productive supporting a few known configurations than many random malware-infested ones. Windows software deployment by changing one key in the AD is far easier than having to physically present oneself at the user's personally owned PC. And a support person costs a lot more per annum than the capital cost of quite a large number of PCs. So there's a rational reason for you. I doubt it's the actual one! The world is not that sensible a place.
I don't know if a university science department's latest intake of postgrad students is a representative group, but we offer them a choice between Windows 7 and Windows 8 (and Linux of course ). Of those wanting Windows:
8 asked for Windows 7
0 asked for Windows 8
And I'm frequently asked to remove Windows 8 from a laptop and to install Windows 7.If MS wants to sell more PCs for Xmas, isn't the answer obvious?
Re: Did the earth move for you?
Should I invoke Rule 34 at this point?
Halt and catch fire malware?
It's probably just a faulty battery.
But these days with fancy battery control chips capable of being controlled by the slab's CPU, I fear it's only a matter of time before someone works out how to implement HCF (halt and catch fire).
Re: I have to say that EMP is one of the real assymetical threats that causes me concern
Oh yes, the UV laser pulse zap gun. Yes, you could deliver a large pulse as far as the first object in the path which is opaque to UV. That would usually be a window. You could probably break the window, but a bullet (or brick) works better. You might just about be able to disable the PC in the room (although I've experienced lightning striking a lamp-post about ten feet from my PC, and the PC survived - I had momentary doubt about myself!). But for military use, wouldn't even a humble RPG wreak much greater havoc?
A zap gun has probably got some application as a wireless Taser (or real-life "Phaser set to stun") if they can make a suitable hand-held laser. You don't need an extremely fast rise-time or enormous E-fields to knock a person out. (Once again if you want to kill them, a bullet is probably a better bet). It's other application might be near-speed-of-light delivery of such a pulse to (say) an incoming hostile aircraft or missile. But aircraft are provably hardened against lightning strikes.
I don't have access to any top secret papers, but I very much doubt that a Terawatt pulse at one end of a wire made of ionised air can arrive as a terawatt pulse at the other. It's a dispersive transmission line, and I'd expect the pulse to be considerably broadened (and consequently flattened, de-fanged) in transit.
Re: I have to say that EMP is one of the real assymetical threats that causes me concern
As a small-scale disrupter in terrorist or saboteur hands, one has to worry.
On a large scale, inverse-squares is your friend. You'd have to generate a LOT of electrical energy to have the same effect at 1km rance compared to 10m. 10,000 times as much.
And for the record a nuke generates a serious EMP when detonated in the upper atmosphere, above 50km up. Lower, and it shorts out its own EMP with its own fireball. Not to imply that a nuclear fireball is in any way harmless ....
Very few Asians have blue eyes, but it's not completely unknown. I'm told that this is evidence that the Vikings travelled more widely than is commonly known
Not that the Vikings were in the same league as Ghengis Khan.
Re: Hentai ?
I was thinking tentacular porn, rather more Laundry than Rule 34 ... we all know about the Redmond cultists, don't we? (Embrace, Extend, Extinguish ...)
You mean, like Firefox does?
The principle is caveat emptor. Check out the credentials of the person or org offering the plug-in. Find some satisfied users. It's no different to any other software. Indeed, the principle was well-known to the Romans (hence the latin phrase), long before software existed. In "Alice in Wonderland" it was a bottle labelled "Drink Me" which Alice unwisely took at face value.
Consider also "A fool and his money are soon parted", and "nothing is proof against an exceedingly great fool".
Blocking ads is such a morally gray matter, given the Internet can't run for free, but the principle should encourage ad pushers to use less-annoying advertisements which people wouldn't bother to block in the first place.
No, it's not grey. It's just you exercising your freedom of choice. If others doing the same causes certain organisations to cease to be profitable, they'll have to find another business model or cease trading. That's commercial life. Newspapers, other than freesheets, have now almost all gone subscription-only for their online editions, which is fine by me. I'd pay, if I needed access to their news to any significant extent. (I pay for Linux Weekly News).
Google may be planning to take away that particular freedom of choice from Chrome users. If I'd ever left Firefox, I'd be returning soon in response to this news.
Has anyone ever considered an ad-blocker that classified adverts, and allowed them through if they met the user's criteria for minimal annoyance? Or the same done manually (better - maybe?), funded by the responsible advertisers who don't want to be blocked only because of the irresponsible advertisers? Or an advert-server which guarantees no adverts that don't pass minimal-annoyance criteria?
Probably not, because most www users don't block ads and probably don't know that they can.
Re: Can someone explain the science
It was a stony meteorite rather than a nickel-iron one. Stone is brittle and usually has internal weaknesses. So when it was subjected to thousands of G, and when its exterior was abruptly made very hot, it broke up and then (with a massively increased surface area) "exploded" (meaning lots of pieces in close proximity deposited most of their kinetic energy into the same smallish volume of air).
An Iron meteor of the same mass would probably have held together and made a crater on the surface if it were big enough for it to not be completely burned up in transit. (Iron burns, most stone doesn't because it's already as oxidized as it can get).
An interesting statistic
The predictable human death rate from meteor impact is at least 60 people per annum.
Surprised? Doubtful? That's because I'm using a conservative average, but running it back over hundreds of millions of years.
Let's assume just one Chixulub-scale impact every 100 million years. It would kill most of not all of the human race if it happened today. 6 billion deaths / 100 Million years = 60 per annum.
Aren't statistics wonderful?
Re: Instant climate change
The cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction is not widely believed to have been an impact event. It was coincident with the erruption of the Siberian traps. This was the most colossal volcanic erruption probably since life evolved. It could hardly have caused less than a global ecological catastrophe due to the gases released into the atmosphere.
Of course it's possible that an impact event provided the final straw for a seriously damaged ecosystem. This is the probable fate of the dinosaurs in the more recent mass extinction. The Chixulub impact occurred at the same time as the eruption of the Deccan traps, another massive volcanic outpouring though considerably smaller than the Siberian traps.
Finally, at least one sort of catastrophic event exists that would leave no direct geological trace at a remove of hundreds of My: exposure of the Earth to a gamma-ray burst in a "nearby" galaxy. This would ionise some fraction of the N2 and O2 molecules over half the planet's atmosphere, followed by recombination into Nitrogen Oxides. The Ozone layer would be almost instantly gone, and decades of nitric acid-laden rain would follow. Land-based life would suffer worst, as almost all plant life would be destroyed. You can of course posit any quantity of NOx creation depending on the gamma-ray flux.
Re: Instant climate change
Geologists have something of a track record of being right!
Back in Victorian days, they became quite certain that the earth was billions of years old, by measuring sedimentary rock strata thicknesses and present-day deposition rates. Physicists, however, were equally certain that the Sun could not be more than tens of millions of years old, because no chemical reaction could fuel it for any longer. The Geologists insisted that if chemistry couldn't, something else must....
...and in due course, nuclear fusion was discovered.
Re: "pointless subject like French"
Music and programming (and pure mathematics) have far more in common than people who aren't at all musical can ever realize. I've never known a university maths department that doesn't have some truly gifted amateur musicians, and a random collection of upper-quartile programmers won't be far behind. Something like they employ the same parts of our brains to ends that are superficially very different, and deep down not at all so.
I've occasionally thought that a musical score is the machine-code, and learning to perform that music amounts to reverse-compiling it inside one's head, until one has ascended back to the high-level abstractions more like those that the composer started from inside his head.
Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...
Once again: Python is a free download, works the same on Windows or Linux or an RPi. So it's not availability of a simple interpreted language at fault (one FAR better structured than BASIC!).
Either the kids don't want to drink, or there are no teachers to lead them to the water.
Re: Big languages with big libraries
The trouble is that most of the easy codes have already beeen written, and most of the need for good algorithms has gone away with GHz CPUs if you aren't processing large volumes of data.
You can still have fun with coding better algorithms in science and other disciplines , but you tend to need a physics, chemistry, engineering, bioscience, geography or geology degree (to name a few!) to understand the problems before you can start addressing it with code. In fact I might advise a keen coder not to study Comp Sci at all.
Re: So fix it!
Rubbish. Python interpreter:
>>> for i in range (1,10):
... print i
An infinite loop is of course >>> while True: but because today's systems are so fast, it's not such a useful thing to demonstrate these days - you can't see anything happening except a screenfull of identical lines appears.
Re: Old Manuals
But seriously, CompSci students can't write programs? Could be that language compilers are not so readily available, or are not so cheap these days.
No. Python is available for free on Windows and Linux systems alike. http://www.python.org/download . Python is a perfect first language: well-structured, lots of libraries, and interpreted.
Most people are no longer interested. Sad but true. I don't feel it's just programming. rather, that the whole state school system is broken, and now exists to crush all inquisitiveness and initiative out of kids so that they can become drooling compliant consumers. Exams no longer require thought or understanding, just regurgitation of memorized texts.
In the USA the universal photo-ID is a driving license, to the extent that some (most? all?) states issue non-drivers' driving licenses!
Re: Print-it yourself ID works.
I think in the case of opening a Building Society account, the account details on the possibly faked bank statement will be checked with the bank. If they deny that a person of that name has an account with that number at that address, the new account will be locked and your money imprisoned until you explain yourself (probably to the police - I think such a misrepresentation is fraud).
Of course you could fake someone else's ID and operate the account until the first statement is sent to the person whose ID you have purloined. Maybe you can find a person who has gone away (say to another country) without closing an account of little value, at an address where mail to former residents just gets thrown away instead of returned to sender. So the checks aren't 100%. 90% will suffice. Organised crime will be deterred to the extent of recruiting a slightly-paid army of real-ID low-lifes and small fake businesses to launder its dirty cash. Which in turn lets the authorities subject illegal money to some degree of taxation.
It's the database, dammit!
I have no objection even to being forced to carry photo-id at all times and produce it on demand to reasonable persons of authority in reasonable circumstances (which is the law in several European states). I'd get a photographic driving license if the government didn't charge me for trading in my non-photographic one (and again every ten years thereafter). I have a passport (which I don't carry in the UK only because it's too big) and an employer-issued photographic staff-ID card (which I do).
What I object strongly to is the centralized database of everything which the former Labour government planned to introduce on the back of its ID cards, to log and control every aspect of our lives, and to make a start on constructing a UK-sized panopticon prison camp. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should, and nowhere more so than in taking away the right to any sort of privacy at all (except, probably, for a privileged few rulers).
So keep the recordings of ID completely decentralized, and forgotten after a reasonable time. That's a time-tested way of making life somewhat harder for the criminals, that really doesn't harm the honest very much.
BTW provided you lie and say you are British, you *can* check into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs Smith. You can even do it legally. In the UK, there is no law saying you cannot call yourself whatever you want, provided it is not with criminal intent. Sleeping with someone else's spouse may be immoral, but is not a crime. It's also an example of a freedom that would be all but gone the moment a national ID database went online in every hotel.
I think "lightbulb" is the modern incarnation of "toaster".
A more sensibly net-connected gadget is your fridge. It could be registered with the National Grid as a device that can be commanded "off" at a moment of critically high demand. A fridge will stay cold enough for at least half an hour without power. You'd get the electricity the fridge uses at a discount. At a future date it might also be able to deliver an inventory of its contents to your phone while you are in Tesco.
Or your central heating system, which you would command on with your mobile phone maybe half an hour before you arrive home, so home is warmed up. More efficient than having a timer set for your usual home time, that you forget to cancel on the evenings when you'll be home late.
But if light bulbs could predict their likely failure within the next fortnight, that could be useful. A sane implementation would be to alert your house-controller, which you'd have programmed to mail you or text you alerts if you are that way inclined, or just to quietly add a new lightbulb to next week's shopping-reminder list. (Just like printer alerts at work, if you think about it).
One controller per household?
Regardless of whether it's cheaper this way, there should be one and usually only one internet-connected master controller of thingies per household. The thingies should speak a restricted low-badnwidth protocol down a severely bandwidth-limited pipe. The mains wiring is the obvious conduit ... but give them a 100kbps channel not a 100Mbps channel!
Cars are already moving this way, with the lights and other peripheral devices bus-connected.
There's still botnet potential, but probably less so than the already extant hordes of broadband routers provide. And there would be just one thing to turn off when it malfunctioned, upon which the lights and other devices ought to revert to "dumb" behaviour.
Re: Well, if and when
Both offences cover a large degree of wrongdoing
About the best you could say in defence of a murderer is "he only killed one man, and that man had made him very angry". (If causing death was neither intended nor a reasonably forseeable consequence of the criminal's actions, it's not murder).
What language did they use
Seeing as no-one has yet taken the bait ...
Java or C#. Definitely not free.
Re: analogy fail? (@ Frumious Bandersnatch)
Surely people also have a strong financial interest in keeping thir systems secure? Loss of confidential information to third parties, destruction of information by hostile third parties, both have costs associated. Possibly high costs. Possibly fatally high costs for a business.
I don't know enough about the technology to judge the practicalities, but the concept is surely not a fail on motivational grounds.
Re: Distros too
There's already a long-term-stable kernel out there: the one that Red Hat maintain, and Centos and Scientific Linux free-beer clone. Security and other fixes from more recent linux kernels are back-ported to 2.6.18 (for RHEL 5) which will continue to be maintained for five years after RHEL7 release date. Same pattern for RHEL6 (2.6.32 based)
Last time I looked (a good while ago) the 2.4 kernel was also still healthy, on volunteer life-support.
There are pros and cons of feature-frozen bug-fixed kernels, and the Linux community can have its cake AND eat it. The biggest drawback is probably new CPU designs and a frozen kernel that doesn't fully support them, or doesn't support them at all.
Re: Biiiiiiig Changes
An entertaining alternative to dissolving things in Ferric Chloride, is to employ an angry person and supply them with a lump hammer and gas torch.
That's stage 1: break into small pieces.
Domestic and probably commercial data security is quite adequately served by just drilling a couple of holes in thetop of the HDA and pouring a cola drink through one hole until it comes out of the other. (Just think what it does to your teeth! )
But a really secure site worries that even a small piece of a disk platter might be placed under an electron microscope and decoded bit by bit. Therefore, do not allow off site until its very atoms have been dissociated by dissolution in a vat of ferric chloride.
Re: Tablets in schools? Not for long.
I've long thought that the best approach for a school would be Gbit networking and thin clients, with a large multiuser server that actually does the work locked well away from the kids and non-IT staff.
Thin clients are cheap to replace. (All but free if you can use a Pi and recycle a keyboard / mouse / display from some other organ of your local government that's escaping Windows XP before next April). Thin clients also have the advantage that there's no financial and little other incentive for kids to steal them.
Re: What happened to...
Oh, we know the nearby stars that will go supernova within a cosmic eyeblink. Betelgeuse (the nearest) will go sometime in the next 100 kyears or so. Other giants further away look even more unstable.
But a human lifetime is a tiny fraction of a cosmic eyeblink, and the exact timing of a supernova is probably not predictable to an accuracy of years (not until it passes the point of no return). The giant bloated star gets less and less stable, contracts, finds there's still something left to fuse, gets hotter, expands, wobbles on the edge like that for hundreds of kyears. Betelgeuse has contracted 15% since we've been able to observe its size (about a century). Maybe, just maybe, it really has run out of fuel this time!
(Betelgeuse is just far enough away that it won't do serious damage to the Earth when it blows. Only just far enough. Halve the distance and there would be Consequences. Halve it again and we'd be staring at a near-future extinction-level event)
(And spare a thought that if there is a $DEITY out there, maybe It is working really hard at making sure that there are no gamma-ray bursters popping in our direction in any "nearby" galaxies. If that is the case I'll thank It should I ever meet it, and I quite understand why It doesn't have any time for our smaller concerns! )
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