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Comment: Re:That's How I Know I Got Old (Score 3, Interesting) 340

by GrahamCox (#47380991) Attached to: On 4th of July:

The last few years I've thought it would be awesome if I could watch the fireworks from a small private plane.

Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but watching fireworks from a plane is likely to be a big disappointment. Because you can see so much area from a thousand feet or so, the fireworks become comparatively tiny, and also often viewed against a background of urban lighting which makes them hard to see. Even huge public displays like the Sydney NYE displays look pretty unimpressive from the air. Fireworks are only impressive when viewed from the ground against a dark sky, close to their launch point.

Comment: Re:The central tenet of atheism (Score 1) 1318

by GrahamCox (#47357005) Attached to: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Objections To Contraception

Not believing in a deity means accepting on faith that the universe came into existence without the help of a deity.

Certainly there are aspects of belief and "faith" even in an atheistic viewpoint, because there are some things that we simply don't know and, probably, cannot know. But saying "god did it" is a very absurd fallback, because it begs the obvious, childish, yet profound question, "where did god come from?" Adding another level of complexity to explain away the already difficult complexity we're faced with doesn't make the problem simpler!

Comment: Re:how about we stick to making the basics better (Score 1) 196

by GrahamCox (#47347347) Attached to: How Apple Can Take Its Headphones To the Next Level
It's definitely true. I've had to replace a number of household white-goods items recently - dishwasher, oven and washing machine - which all failed due to bad design. As someone who once did design consumer goods for a living, it was easy to see where the failures had been either engineered in, or negligently ignored.

The washing machine failed due to intermittent contact between the spinning drum and the plastic casing that enclosed it (only a perfectly balanced load would avoid this contact, a rarity in practice). Eventually this wore through, allowing water to be ejected under pressure straight onto the back of the bare PCB that controlled the machine.

The dishwasher failed because the relay that controlled the main heater was underrated for the current draw of the element, leading to heavy contact wear and eventual failure. The PCB tracks connecting the same relay were also undersized and showed signs of delamination from the substrate due to heat. Which failed first was a matter of luck, but one of them definitely would, but after a period of working (3 years in my case).

The oven was the worst. The casing was so badly engineered that hot air from the back of the oven was fan-forced through a gap directly onto the back of the electronics controlling the timer functions, display, etc. This was gradually cooked to the point where the plastic surround that supported the PCB became depolymerised and so it just fell apart one day when the front panel buttons were pressed. The entire PCB was carbonised but somehow still did function, but as the mountings were now disintegrated (not even glueable), it was unrepairable.

It really annoys me that these things are made this way. It's not even cost-cutting, because the faults were not due to reducing costs of materials or construction, it was designed that way. In other words designed to fail. And the problem is people are now brainwashed into believing that five years lifespan for goods like this is OK, even 'doing well'. It's NOT! These things should last 20 years or more. I would definitely buy a brand that could be shown that it was engineered right, and that brand would surely clean up by having a much stronger reputation.

Comment: FF Motorcycle Solved? (Score 2) 218

by GrahamCox (#47277887) Attached to: It's Not a Car, It's a Self-Balancing Electric Motorcycle (Video)
Lots of sneering from motorcyclists, that's to be expected. But in fact this type of design has been attempted for many years (it's called the "feet forwards" or FF motorcycle) and the rationale for it is pretty sound: a small, efficient, personal transport that is as nimble as a motorcycle but has the comfort of a car.

The main problem with attempts made to date has been the one of staying upright when stationary. Some designs had open sides so you could use your feet, but that obviously compromises bad-weather comfort. Others have pop-down stabilisers but that's inelegant and difficult to make work at the right moment. If this has solved that problem and truly allows an enclosed cabin, they might have actually finally done it. I think this could well have a significant market, but probably not one with existing die-hard motorcyclists. I like it; it's pretty cool and I wish them well.

While batteries are at the energy densities they are, this size of vehicle makes a lot more sense than an SUV-sized behemoth. I've done the maths, and excellent performance and range are perfectly doable with LiPO4 technology, 20kW of power at a gross vehicle weight of 400kg. I think it definitely has a future.

A computer scientist is someone who fixes things that aren't broken.