* Posts by Geoffrey Swenson

55 posts • joined 9 Apr 2008


What Compsci textbooks don't tell you: Real world code sucks

Geoffrey Swenson

Code that needs to be commented very much is badly written code.

I've just been to two different places in four months where the bad code made things difficult. In one place, there were several layers of back end, all of which required pages of test code to be written just to handle all of the conversions from one backend object to the next parallel object. It apparently didn't occur to the devs to have shared enums and type classes across these boundaries. The system was so error prone and hostile that they had resorted to "extreme" programming -- having two people write the code at the same monitor.

This turns the usual fun of writing code into sleep inducing drudgery for at least one member of the pair.

The other corporate nightmare has endless meetings trying to define, in advance, all of the elements of the software we were writing under an extreme time pressure. I got tired of the bickering and produced a nice UI in a few days of work.

Asteroid miners hunt for platinum, leave all common sense in glovebox

Geoffrey Swenson

The way to make this profitable is to get the scale of the mining effort right. They need to bring enough valuable stuff back to pay the bills, but not so much that the price goes thru the floor. If they overdo this competitors will step in to increase the supply and lower the price.

Microsoft: TypeScript isn't a JavaScript killer

Geoffrey Swenson

Sounds way better than Dart

Since I already have VS 2012, I guess I can't complain at all. This sounds like a much better way to improve JavaScript than Google's Dart, which just adds more mistakes rather than really fixing anything.

Tesla Model S named '2013 Automobile of the Year'

Geoffrey Swenson

The fact that the cars drive damn well and early examples are not badly assembled, quite unlike Fisker, means that even if sales don't pick up fast enough to keep Tesla in the black as an independent automaker, at least one large automaker, such as Daimler or Toyota is going to take over Tesla as a subsidiary.

I've read some of the dirt in the links, and it seems like The Register likes to harp on the bad news about Tesla as much as they can. I'm not in the market for a $50,000+ electric car, but Elon Musk seems to have a good sense about how to do this.

I've watched a few of his video interviews, and I like his confident, well-informed attitude. I'd bet that he probably would be really hard to work with for someone used to the usual corporate politics. But the fact that he has actually delivered some well engineered hardware means something, even if it is a bit later than planned and the ramp up to full production is not going as fast as one would like.

At least he isn't building cars that catch fire, or have battery packs fail on two-day old cars.

Paintballs proposed as defense against ASTEROID ATTACK

Geoffrey Swenson

This probably wouldn't work if the asteriod is spinning.

Apache promotes OpenOffice to top-level project

Geoffrey Swenson

I downloaded and installed the latest Libre Office, much improved.

I posted earlier that Open Office was more than a little bit buggy, but despite five thumbs down, I'll stand by that statement. However, I did give Libre Office another try and its definitely much improved now. I was able to format my resume and save it, then reload it with the formatting still intact. Open Office was so buggy that some important formatting was mangled every time I saved and reopened the document.

I still think that it goes too far in copying lame metaphors from Word, rather than choosing a better way to do anything. The people giving me the thumbs down should understand that I don't like Word very much at all, but unfortunately it is so prevalent of a standard I have to put up with it.

I also had some trouble figuring out how to add/remove lines from a table cell. I finally found them somewhat illogically in paragraph formatting. It doesn't quite make sense to have them controlled there because it IS possible one would want to have paragraph lines on the text inside a cell, and completely separate lines on the table cell itself. So this isn't exactly an improvement in metaphors. It would also help to have an underline shortcut on the toolbar, which in this case IS copying Word, but it's and OK metaphor, so why not do it?

One way Libre Office is improved over WinWord is that it does have an actual menu instead of the tabbed ribbon bar confusion of Word.

I still wish Adobe hadn't bought Framemaker only to sit on it. It was such a nice program, they could have made it a little bit friendlier and released it as a supremely capable word processor, that just happened to be a pretty damn good page layout program too.

Geoffrey Swenson

Does Libre Office actually work? Open Office is so shot thru with bugs that it's worth the trouble to give M$ their ransom for the lame but usable Microsoft Word.

Wonder why you live longer than a chimp? Thank your MOTHER IN LAW

Geoffrey Swenson

I suppose that it really didn't matter that the men lived longer too

Since males share an X chromosome, any mutations that made women live longer were likely to make the men live longer too. So it doesn't need to be explained separately.

Purpose of RFID finally discovered: It's for pairing up socks!

Geoffrey Swenson
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If at the end of week I don't have a match for my socks I put on whatever I can find. Nobody is rude enough to say they noticed and the code I'm writing at work doesn't care so much anyway.

I've been lately just simplifying this by buying only black socks, so I guess I'm a geek. I don't care, I make a bit more money than most non-geeks.

Error found in climate modelling: Too many droughts predicted

Geoffrey Swenson

Re: @ Norman123

Scientists with their deliberately imperfect models are just really rakin' in the dough making all of these scary claims about the climate. Last I saw they had even nicer houses than the CEO's of fossil fuel companies. A lot of them even own yachts.

It's hard to understand why they even bother to build equipment that actually attempts to measure things to make their reports. They could just use their largess to buy a bigger yacht instead. Or a trophy wife perhaps.


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Geoffrey Swenson

More Lews BS

So if the scientists predicted 20 droughts with their previous methods and with the new methods we get 15 instead we're now OK? Nothing to worry about, eh?

Again, this is the typical AGW tactic of finding a seeming contradiction and then jumping all over it like it is way more important than it really is. The scientists creating these models are quite aware that they have had to make simplifying assumptions to make their models work. They try to make assumptions that don't effect the results, of course.

There is actual science going on here, so the models themselves are being evaluated to see if they can be improved. This happens all of the time, just in this case the suggestion is that the models are sometimes predicting too many droughts. Most of the predictions of climate science tend to underestimate the effects. So I wouldn't be surprised if other reviews finds all sorts of errors that underestimate things as well. None of this invalidates the results .. it just makes them better and furthers our understanding.

New nuclear fuel source would power human race until 5000AD

Geoffrey Swenson

Re: Thorium rocks

No, thorium doesn't rock. It's just a way of changing the subject by the pro nukes.

Thorium is an element, when bombarded by neutrons, is converted into fissile fuel. Something has to provide the neutrons, such as a small conventional nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator.

Thorium requires fuel reprocessing to be practical. The fissile materials produced by the neutron bombardment need to be separated out from other elements that absorb too many neutrons making the reaction inefficient, just like with regular uranium fuel. They are then used in a reactor.

The thorium nuts are gaga about Liquid (molten salt) Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR), which have only been built on a pilot scale so far. It would take considerable research and very expensive materials to build reactors that can hold up to extremely hot, corrosive, radioactive salt without failures on a commercial scale.

So again, thorium is yet another way of producing nuclear fuel. It hardly matters that it is more abundant and thus less expensive because the cost of the fuel is not the reason why nuclear power is so expensive. The costs come from the huge infrastructure needed to both contain the radiation and produce power from the generated heat, the decommisioning costs, and the largely unfunded but very significant risks. There are no companies in Europe or the US reprocessing any fuel because it is so inherently dangerous to deal with hugely reactive chemicals needed to reprocess such even more dangerously reactive dirty fuel. The processes requireed are so expensive and dangerous nobody wants to do it. Its cheaper to use new fuel.

It's very difficult to design machinery that hold up to the extreme stresses on materials that have to handle heavy radiation and extremely reactive chemicals, such as fluorine, and concentrated acids, bases, oxidizing / reducing agents used to chemically separate the good stuff from the radioactive waste. It is also really hard to design and operate the equipment to avoid the inconvienient and dangerous problems of having various hot nucleotides to find a place to collect in a corner or a pipe somewhere and get really hot (both radioactively and quite warm too) and then start some very inconvenient and sometimes catastrophic reactions. This is how small amounts of nasty things like plutonium or other radionucleotides end up contaminating things when these messes are cleaned up.

So, as I said, it doesn't matter that thorium is more abundant. The cost of the fuel is not why nuclear power is so expensive.

Thorium doesn't produce the same set of waste nucleotides as Uranium fission, but it still produces nuclear waste that has to be dealt with in the same way. So this still sounds like a technology with more problems than advantages.

Geoffrey Swenson

Re: we know that nuclear power is safe

Environmentalists don't like coal any better than nuclear, so why is your comparsion even valid? There are better alternatives than coal.

Geoffrey Swenson

Re: The Usual Silliness

In an nutshell, you've just expressed the typical pro-nuke argument, and you think you are ever so superior to those ever-so-foolish anti-nuke people.

You say that we don't want "cheap, abundant, energy". This is absurd, because nuclear power isn't really isn't all that cheap. There are all sorts of costs that they want to wish away, such as decommissioning, the environmental damage from mining and processing radioactive ores, and the huge, government subsidized costs when a nuclear plant goes bad.

We were told we were foolish to believe that nuclear accidents couldn't happen with all the safeguards and backup systems... but now that it has several times now, the utterly amazing argument is being made that an occasional massive blowup like Fukashima / Chernobyl / Three-Mile Island ... is not really all that bad.

Mr Lewis is hardly is any expert about the hazards of the massive amounts of radiation released at Fukashima to justify his opinion of just how minimal the effects are going to be over the next few years, and for the thousands of years the long-lived radionucleotides spread so far and wide will be polluting the environment. Most scientists expect that there will be a many hundreds of extra deaths from the resulting pollution, but spread over such a large area that it will be difficult to trace them. So it's extremely disengenuous to claim that there are no deaths associated with Fukashima.

Nuclear power isn't even all that green even if you wish away all of the radioactive danger ... the whole process of building massive structures to process fuel, house reactors, and so on emits vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

Wind power, even without subsidies are becoming cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels. The cost of solar and other green power is continuing to decline as new technologies, and economies of mass production result in lower costs and increased efficiencies.

People like myself are think we are better off using the vast, free energy provided by the sun. We could even make the argument that pro-nuke activists don't want abundant, inexpensive energy, and want to keep insisting that we pour even more money down this expensive and inherently dangerous technological dead end.

Cloud engineering could save humantiy, suggests boffin

Geoffrey Swenson

Since we are already messing things up big time, it may be necessary to do all sorts of things to mitigate the damage. The good thing about this method is that you can just stop spraying the water if it had any undesirable effects, and within a few days or months at the worst any problems would just go away.

However, it may not work because clouds can trap heat as well as reflect it. So they just have to do some experiments to see whether it works or not.

Geoffrey Swenson

Mr. Lewis somehow knows more than actual scientists?

Mr. Lewis can't help himself -- he always has to get a snide word in with his weird anti-science biases. So renewable energy is "crippling expensive" even though there's abundant research showing that many technologies are nearly as inexpensive as fossil fuels.

He also just has to assume for the moment that global warming exists because he actually knows better.

CO2 warms Earth FASTER than previously thought

Geoffrey Swenson

So how this result invalidating anything about human-caused warming?

If anything, it means it's worse than we expected ... so the CO2 we're adding to the atmophere is likely to cause even more problems than the current models. It invalidates nothing about currently accepted climate research.

Lately there has been some other results (of course NOT reported in any of the one-sided non-scientific "science" reporting on this website) that have indicated that global warming effects have been worse than previously extrapolated, and that tipping point may very well be closer to the current levels, rather than what has been expected 30 years from now.

Even though the warming is worse than the models predicted, the reasons why it is worse are largely due to very difficult to model effects of melting tundra, glaciers, warming land, and oceans releasing additional amounts of methane, nitrous oxides, and dying forests burning away -- all of which make the problem worse, but until they start actually happening, it's rather difficult to calculate how much of a runaway feedback they have. It doesn't invalidate the science itself, as the warming effects HAVE happened pretty much as predicted (not that you would know this by reading anything on THIS website), but now that the warming is beginning to happen in a big way, the positive feedback effects are kicking in at a faster rate than predicted.

That doesn't invalidate the science, it just means that we need to learn more about the many different ways that rising temperatures create these frankly scary runaway effects.

Of course, the incredible heat wave and droughts in most of the US (and exceptional floods and droughts elsewhere) get no mention in this article, just snarky and rather unjustified critiques of well-accepted climate science.

Ocean-seeding experiment re-ignites geo-engineering debate

Geoffrey Swenson

We need to know our options

I know that this magazine leans heavily into kooky global warming denial, so the somewhat derogotory comment in the title is more of the same..

There are some environmentalist that are appalled that we would consider doing more changes to the environment rather than just cutting back on our CO2 emissions. I don't agree.

Even though the research has not yet concluded that we've passed a tipping point, it's very likely we already have gone way too far with our CO2 emissions. Since it is possible that we have already passed a tipping point that in turn leads into huge, dangerous changes, we need to research all the ways we can mitigate what we have already done, and this ocean seeding seems like a reasonable way to undo about 10-15% of the problem. We just need a few other ways as well.

Sure there are going to be some undesirable consequences from some of the methods. Putting things in orbit to block the sun, or deliberately simulating volcanic emissions into the high atmosphere would cool things off, but alter precipitation patterns in undesirable ways. Even so, undesirable effects of the CO2 we have already put into the atmosphere are likely to get far worse, so we may have to be willing to take desperate measures.

We need to do the research now, while there is some time to evaluate the downsides and benefits of various mitigation methods.

Page won't show his ring to prove Google+ 'engagement'

Geoffrey Swenson

I don't get the posters that think nothing is happening on Google+ because I spend a lot of time there. I have a few dozen people in my circle that share common interests in technology and/or politics.

The one thing that distinguishes Google+ from facebook is that you can find actual posts by searching. This was how I found the core people that led to others, in a process that is still continuing.

I make at least 20 comments a day and about a post a day. Some of the people I'm following post regularly with things that deeply interest me.

SOPA is dead. Are you happy now?

Geoffrey Swenson

The content producers thought they could shove a draconian bill thru Congress so quickly that it would be a done deal before anyone could react. They were completely deaf to any objections from major players in the IT industry.

This is only way I can see out of this. What we need is a system of micropayments that is easy and has low overhead, and services built around them so that people can find the content that they want.

A significant amount of the stuff pirated isn't available by legal means over the Internet. The content providers need to fix this. Rather than fighting BitTorrent, they should work with them to provide content that users pay small fees to access either per play or per download. I would be willing to pay a few dollars for a movie download that I know is virus free, not compressed to death, and is legal. I'm doing that now with my satellite dish, and I like it.

They content providers make up in huge volume the money the larger fees they used to make for each transaction. This works because the delivery cost of the content is approaching zero. They also get paid for good catalogs and services to FIND the content.

There can be social groups around this content, where you can go and get the latest song from your favorite groups. Or associate with your favorite DJ that picks out new songs for you.

The model of having smattering of a few groups get big success and other equally talented groups getting ignored may not be possible under this scenario. It is no longer necessary either, because the cost per copy is the same for a hugely popular group is the same as someone that sells a few thousand songs.

It may be more democratic and less-controlled from the top than what they are used to. But they can make money if they will open their minds to new possibilities.

Copying is going to be so cheap and easy that it won't work to force users to not do this. They are going to want to share content with their friends, and have backup copies. I don't see how any technology can prevent users from doing this copying, there is always some way to work around it. The way to make this work is to make doing it the legal way easy, rewarding, and fun as part of a social activity, and relatively inexpensive. Since the overheads are low, plenty of profit can be made.

IT'S OFFICIAL: AT&T, T-Mobile deal is dead

Geoffrey Swenson

I suspect that a lot of the 4 billion was already spent on due diligence work to prepare for the merger. T-mobile (my current cariier) doesn't have enough spectrum to compete by itself, but at the same time I couldn't stomach AT&T (my former carrier) and its greedy billing practices to get any bigger.

Rock star physicist Cox: Neutrinos won't help us cheat time

Geoffrey Swenson
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Recently a physicist using money from the US fossil-fuel / liberatarian Koch brothers to analyze all of the historical measurements since the invention of accurate thermometers.

This physicist had long accused the climatetologists of poor methodology and bad analysis of the data, so he started out from scratch with new algorithms to correct the biases in the data based on the best available information.

Geesh, from almost an entirely diffferent perspective, but using prinicples of science, they arrived at pretty much the same answer.

Global warming is real, though you would think otherwise if you read stuff on this website only.

UK, US ink boffinry pact on laser fusion 'star power'

Geoffrey Swenson

Yes, you're right. I was remembering this from a long-ago conversation with my college roommate, who had just read or watched an interview with Admiral Rickover.

Geoffrey Swenson

Of course the Sun is a fusion furnace, but it is safely located in a huge, distant vacuum / gravity well.

Your argument is oh so funny, but irrelevant. It hardly changes the fact that when nuclear materials escape confinement, the results can be deadly, and cleanup requires waiting several thousand years for the stuff to decay.

We can't have an energy industry that in rare accidents has such a overwhelming result.

It also doesn't make sense given that nuclear makes financial sense only if governments step in and cover the uninsurable extreme risks, and numerous other subsidies, such as decomissioning cleanup. The point of these subsidies was originally to jump start a future of abundant, cheap energy, but that really hasn't happened.

Geoffrey Swenson

Thorium is just the latest of many excuses for playing with the nuclear genie, and chances are it won't be much better than where we've already been. Before that it was latest jumbo-sized reactor design which were supposed to be safer and more economical, when actually built somewhere in Scandinavia, had extreme many X cost overruns and safety issues that were revealed as the plant was being built. After that debacle the debate has now moved to thorium as the next great nuclear technology, and here we go again.

Even though the thorium fuel is much cheaper and less radioactive, it still requires costly and dangerous fuel reprocessing, still produces hazardous radioactive nucleotides that could be diverted for terrorism.

There is abundant sun and wind power many times what we need to power this planet. We should be researching better means to store power for future use, rather than wasting our time and money on inherently dangerous technologies. It is not like this is a unsolvable problem, as nature already did it several million years ago.

I recently read an article about a company that is proposing portable, low-cost ammonia generation plants as a way to convert electrical energy into concentrated no-carbon fuel for under $2 a US gallon at current energy prices. This can be burned in modified gasoline engines and probably would work in a fuel cell. This makes far more sense than hydrogen because the ammonia can be stored in a pressured tank.

Geoffrey Swenson

Admiral Nimitz himself, as a big proponent of nuclear powered ships, was much less enamored of commercial nuclear power. He felt that without military discipline to ensure that guidelines were followed, accidents were likely.

I don't agree that nuclear fission is safe. We have already had too many incidents, way too many permanently despoiled areas like Hanford and other poorly run nuclear production facilities in other US States, an entire river system in Siberia that is so radioactive that a five minute exposure on its banks would be fatal. And then there is Chernobyl and now Fukushima, both of which involved a huge amount of human error and cost-cutting decisions that created the conditions for the disasters. There is no reason anymore to believe that the same stupidity won't ever happen anywhere else, or that some natural or human-caused disaster would be made so much worse by the failure of nuclear containment.

There are much safer, less expensive ways to produce power, we shouldn't be playing with the nuclear genie. It really isn't worth the risk.

BTW, I don't mind at all that we do research on fusion power, but it is almost completely unrealistic to expect it to work, or to even believe that it would be all that safe. Fusion requires extreme conditions, and plenty of hot particles are produced that would make the walls of the reactor extremely radioactive.

My last point is to mention that the reason why most fission fuel is not reprocessed is that it is very difficult to do and hazardous in the extreme. Just look at the mess around Hanford Washington where fuel was processed for bombs, for just one example of how dirty and dangerous this is. It is cheaper and easier to start out with raw uranium.

'Missing heat': Is global warmth vanishing into space?

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CERN 'gags' physicists in cosmic ray climate experiment

Geoffrey Swenson

Wrong ...

The acidification isn't caused by the warming, but by dissolved CO2. Anything sea organism that makes calcium carbonate shells or skeletal structures exposed to the seawater is vulnerable to the excess acidity as it leaches calcium from their shells.

HP sues Oracle over Itanic withdrawal

Geoffrey Swenson

What a big waste of time

About 8 years ago working at Microsoft, one of the managers started up a hugely expensive Itanium server in his office to install the current betas of whatever he was working on. You could hear the fans screaming to vent the heat put out by the massively inefficient beast from several offices away.

Even though Microsoft was still signed on to support the Itanic, the manager expressed quite a bit of frustration as he apologized for all of the noise, and gave the distinct impression that he felt he was wasting his time.

Windows 8: Microsoft’s high-stakes .NET tablet gamble

Geoffrey Swenson
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C# is great, ASP.net not so much

Its been apparent for some time that the overly complex model of ASP.Net has some serious limitations. I've been writing end-runs around the clunky mess of server-side controls, overly complex page states, and the multitudes of ways that it fights you in creating dynamically generated controls. One of my bosses once told me that I wrote too much JavaScript, and I didn't try to argue -- I just found a better place to work instead.

C# and visual studio are both really nice, and work just fine for back end code. I'm also very impressed with the ASP.Net MVC platform, which has an elegant simplicity that makes it much more flexible for writing complex dynamically generated applications.

The original promise of the ASP.Net postback page model was that you could link together controls on the server side and not have to worry very much about HTML and JavaScript which were all handled for you automagically. The reality was huge amounts of bugs, complexity, poorly constructed HTML, bloated viewstate stuffed into hidden controls on the page, and more time spent turning off unwanted features and restyling garishly ugly control layouts that it would take to write something much more simple and elegant from scratch.

I was a fan of the first versions of Silverlight which was a graphics engine that you scripted on the client side with JavaScript much like SVG. I wrote a couple of charting functions that were nicely interactive and much easier to deal with than Flash, and rendered much more quickly than SVG. But then a new version reversed this, broke all my code, and reintroduced the bloated ASP.net model of controlling Silverlight indirectly on the server side with C#. I really didn't want to go there and the early buggy betas made it very hard to code anything that worked. On top of that there were a lot of complex abstractions to learn, and until I had a paying project - or noticed much of a demand for Silverlight developers -- there wasn't enough time to wrap my head around it.

Some of this makes you almost wish for classic ASP since it was simple. (But not VBscript!).

HTML 5 is in some ways going back to SVG and the original Silverlight model of mixing HTML elements and graphics together using JavaScript. It is much more direct and flexible. It doesn't supersede C# as an excellent language for coding the back end. But it makes sense to do more scripting on the client side because it scales better and it makes the user experience so much more immediate and flexible.

Freeman Dyson: Shale gas is 'cheap and effective'

Geoffrey Swenson

The river in egypt

The environmentalists aren't wrong about peak oil, runaway climate change, and so on. You're just in denial.

There is no huge money to be made being an environmentalist to explain your consipiracy of environmentalists that are concerned about the effects of fossil fuel consumption.

There is, however, plenty of money to be made by psuedoscientists working for fossil fuel companies creating fake junk science and non-scientific junk that you prefer to believe while the fossil fuel companies continue to pollute the planet.

Geoffrey Swenson

Now this

As usual, we can count on the Register to report one side and only one side - in this case, the fossil fuel industries side - about an energy technology and somehow all of the many problems that been reported of water contamination, methane leaks, and the toxic chemicals used to do this new fracking are effortlessly brushed aside as if these reports are rare and unimportant.

It's already abundantly obvious that this fracking is not anywhere near as problem-free as so breezily described here. There's video of people lighting their well-water, of methane leaks, and even small earthquakes -- caused by this activity.

Should we believe anything that is written here, especially about energy technologies?

Japanese gov makes Fukushima evac zone compulsory

Geoffrey Swenson

C'mon now, I'm not picking on you.

This may not have been part of my curriuculum (I wasn't majoring in nuclear engineering after all)but in any case I don't think it is exactly intuitive that a gas would disperse so unevenly, especially over such large distances.

But this fact makes the cleanup more dangerous, right?

Geoffrey Swenson

Problems with hot spots in the average

I worked on a dispersion study for the DOE as a grunt worker many years ago, and one of our surprising findings is that there were areas of high contamination quite a distance from the source, even though the average contamination did decline in the expected inverse square ways. We used a refrigerant gas as our analogue to radon, but fine smoky particles may also have this effect as well.

Geoffrey Swenson

There's plenty of surplus food for him to find

Why should we bother with his substinence, he can hunt for his own food, or eat the crops that are not being harvested if he really thinks they are that safe.

Geoffrey Swenson

There was already evidence that tsunami could go way above 7 meters.

TEPCO shopped around for the science it wanted to believe, rather than doing a truly independent estimate of potential devastation of a tsunami, in a way not completely unlike the Bush-era conclusion of WMD's that were the excuse for the Iraq War.

Its also inexcusable that the backup generators depended on their inadequate seawalls for protection.

Geoffrey Swenson

I hope you're right about this

While I have a long disused degree in mechanical engineering I don't know the specifics of this particular plant in a way that I could make accurate-enough heat transfer estimates. I was only quoting the concerns of one of the scientists interviewed on the Rachel Maddow show during her coverage of the early unfolding disaster.

I did know that TMI was way worse, in some ways, than what we were originally led to believe. The reactor reached a state that was predicted o be at risk of a melt down. The only thing that saved us from that consequence was these calculations about how the pile would melt and go back to criticality were too conservative, so the melting and the concentration of nuclear material in the resulting unplanned experiment was considerably less than the predictions.

I don't know for sure if we would get as lucky for this ongoing unplanned experiment into new modes of nuclear-related heat transfer and degradation. I also wonder what is going on with all of the corrosive salt from the desperation seawater cooling used right after the disaster, which is something that we have no experience of whatsoever.

Geoffrey Swenson

As long as things are out of full control, there are catastrophic consequences possibile

If the pile continues to melt and/or oxidize, the nuclear materials can concentrate below the control rods and thus the reactor can reach critical levels and get so hot it melts through the concrete / steel enclosure. This could happen in a fairly catastrophic way.

It would then hit ground water and make a huge explosion.

Geoffrey Swenson

More Axe Grinding by Mr. Lewis

The evacuations are probably not so much for the current levels of radiation, but to reduce the loss of life if any one of many possible catastrophic situations releases far higher amounts of radiation.

But it is more convenient for Mr. Lewis axe grinding arguments if he simply ignores this possibility.

We are several weeks into the disaster and they have barely made any progress towards getting this actually under control. The entire plant is too radioactive for the workers to actually do much to fix the problem. Robots had to be used recently just to make a survey, and they found lethal levels of radiation in large areas of the plant.

We still risk a huge steam explosion spraying huge amounts of lethal radiation if molten material ever contacts ground water.

Wind power: Even worse than you thought

Geoffrey Swenson

Actually, not so much

Actually we probably have far less coal than commonly reported because most countries reserves are largely theoretical. There is a huge incentive to inflate these numbers.

The low-cost coal is currently what is being mined. Once this are gone, the remaining coal is much harder to extract. Nevertheless, we probably should stop using coal ASAP because it is such a dirty way to produce energy. There is no such thing as "clean" coal.

Geoffrey Swenson

Lewis slays straw men, fails to convince rational people

Lewis likes to find all sorts of over the top commentary in some media outlets. After slaying these straw men, he then adds a more than a few preposterous assertions of his own such as stating Chernobyl really wasn't all that horrible, despite creating a large wasteland area in the Ukraine.

He never really addresses the problems, such as the incredibly high cost Japan will bear to clean up the nuclear mess. Nuclear power is expensive and dangerous and nowhere near as clean or as carbon-neutral as Lewis attests. If I remember correctly, Lewis also is global warming denier, using the same flawed reasoning strategies. It is always apparent that he works his reasoning back from his strong opinions rather than letting the actual facts point to a conclusion. Anything "fact" that is inconvenient to his arguments is dismissed by slaying straw men or creating absurd conspiracies of supposed bias in anyone that disagrees with him.

While the lack of utilization of current wind power technologies is disappointing, there are possible solutions. If some of the massive subsidies for nuclear power were spent instead to find viable ways to store reserve power, wind will become an important part of the energy mix. Otherwise it may be viable to build a link of low-loss superconducting power feeds around the planet so that surpluses can be delivered to where the power is needed.

Microsoft wraps Windows 8 in Ribbon UI?

Geoffrey Swenson

False Equivalence

It has nothing to do with learning something new. The ribbon interface is simply not very functional. Menus take up less space, and can be browsed in entirety by a power user in about fifteen seconds. The way the ribbon forces you to click into dropdowns that hide functions makes this discovery process take at least several minutes of tedious clicking, and it is only aggravated by the thoroughly nonsensical structure of the ribbon bar.

I have had jobs to produce professionally-formatted technical documents with lots of tables and graphics using Word, so you are completely wrong if you think I don't know what I'm talking about.

The ribbon is an abomination. You have to get used to it, and it never, ever makes the work more efficient.

Geoffrey Swenson

Why not throw the whole thing out and start over?

I wouldn't say that Winword was ever quick and intuitive, but the ribbon interface only makes it worse. For just one example, table functions are split into at least two completely unrelated categories.

Furthermore, you can no longer quickly drag the mouse across a menu to find some feature you need. You actually have to click into each item, then drag down arrows, and so on, all of which wastes great gobs of time. By the time I actually find the function I'm looking for, I've lost the mental context to quickly complete the task.

On top of the menu problems, right click actions for selecting table cells paragraphs and text are all broken. It takes several attempts to click in exactly the right way to get an appropriate context menu to come up. All of this makes a program that never was exactly a joy to use so much worse than it was before.

The only thing that saves M$ is that Open Office is so riddled with killer bugs that it is practically unusable. Maybe it is time to look at Word Perfect again.

Fukushima's toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear

Geoffrey Swenson

You're mistaken about "balance"

It ain't balance if one side has their mind made up no matter what the facts are. This website continues to defend extreme non-scientific positions against global warming, and gaga pro-nuclear power using a whole slew of distorted facts and lies. The approach is to belittle the opposition and find false inconsistencies or gotchas that somehow win the argument in their narrow minds but wouldn't pass muster in any peer reviewed article.

Geoffrey Swenson

What planet hosts the servers for the Register?

We have an ongoing nuclear incident that hasn't yet been fully put back into control, and this website continues to run articles that strive to minimize the incident. No doubt quite a few straw men are demolished showing that some of the people making statements about the reactor are overstating things. But it doesn't really doesn't prove that nuclear is something that we shouldn't be very concerned about.

But even without hyperbole it already looks like there is going to be a horrifically expensive cleanup required to clean up this dangerous mess, all of which could have been avoided if the plant had been designed properly, or even better, the vast amounts of subsidies and resources had been spent on technologies without so many expensive costs and safety issues.

This plant has now been so expensive they might as well been burning coal mixed with diamonds and then spent vast amounts of money scrubbing the flue emissions.

Jobs dubs Google's 'open' Android speak 'disingenuous'

Geoffrey Swenson
Jobs Horns

The distortion field isn't working this time

C'mon now Steve, even the reality distortion field cannot hide that Google licenses Android widely on a lot of different devices, while Apple keeps its OS to itself.

Keeping things so closed has worked so well with market share in competition with Windows, so we need to repeat this again with Google.

Perhaps you will end up with more than 5% of the market this time, or most likely: NOT!

Hefty physicist: Global warming is 'pseudoscientific fraud'

Geoffrey Swenson

The nutty conspiracy yet again?

I would think that there is more money in Global Warming debunking that there is in environmental research. It isn't exactly the kind of field where you get rich, especially if you don't work for a fossil-fuel company, so the rationale for the conspiracy is really hard to belief.

But you CAN make good money writing books and hosting websites with all sorts of pseudo-scientific junk to create the FUD about global warming that delay efforts to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, all to the benefit of the companies eager to have a few more years making obscene profits with the technology and resources they already own.

Transmeta takeover threatened by lawyers

Geoffrey Swenson

$0 Sounds about right

The Transmeta architecture didn't work. While there may very well be some interesting technology that may be worth something, the fundamental premise of the company was flawed.

Adobe cites bad blood for closed Flash

Geoffrey Swenson

It is not just that Flash isn't open enough

Flash has problems way beyond not being "open" software. A Flash application becomes a black hole of content. Stuff can go inside and animate, perform actions, and so on, but nothing comes out. A flash application has to make do with very cumbersome metheods to hook up any internal elements to outsitde elements such as the browser DOM or other flash applications on the same page..

And then, generating the Flash content is an exercise in patience since the interfaces are hostile and limiting in the extreme. It is still based on a very dysfunctional timeline-based animation metaphor, where as new tools such as SVG and Silverlight are not. While Sliverlight may also be proprietary software, it has external interfaces that can be used by a wide range of external objects and code, making it far, far more flexible. Silverlight can be designed in a modern object-oriented way. It was written for programmers, unlike Flash which appears to be built for graphic designers, with programming metaphors just tacked on.

While an open standard SVG has the problem that Adobe has abandoned it, and Microsoft has moved onto Silverlight because they wanted to add a more robust programming model, So SVG doesn't run consistently on any modern browsers, and unlike SIlverlight it is a display / animation language, and nothing more. Any SVG application functionality has to be provided by external scripting, which is still better than Flash, since you can use browser Javascript and you have full access to all of the objects inside a SVG graphic rather than the buggy, slow ActionScript used by Flash.

So there are no really great solutions yet. Silverlight is robust and flexible, and modern with really elegant programming metaphors, but proprietary and not quite ready yet. Flash is proprietary, poorly conceived, closed, yet ubiquitous, and SVG is open, very easy to work with, but not implemented very widely and reliably on modern browsers.

So we still are waiting for a decent web graphical interface. HTML ain't it. My bet is on Silverlight even though it isn't open, it just blows the others away with capability. The programmers that get over religious objections to closed software are going to find it a rich and productive environment for robust distributed applications.


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