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Comment: Re:Those guys want pork funds too? (Score 1) 141

by garyebickford (#46828885) Attached to: Asteroid Impacts Bigger Risk Than Thought

I will add that their numbers look different from work I've seen before, and use a more ambitious methodology than I would use. They want to run the entire launch using the magnetic system. This has some serious issues that make it harder IMHO - not that I know much. I believe it would be much easier to justify, finance, and build a system that replaces most or all of the first stage, which is where about 90% of the mass and propellant is spent. Just getting to Mach 5 uses up to 90% of the required fuel at present. It would also eliminate the entire cost of the first stage, replacing it with the cost of electricity, plus wear and tear on the magnetic launch carrier (which could be re-used.)

This approach would not require the high 30G acceleration (which eliminates use for living things) nor the super-long 130km launch track of the MagLaunch system. It would be cheaper and easier to build. This would be a 5G to 10G system with a 50KM track, going up the Andes at the Equator to an elevation of as much over 14,000 feet as can be arranged, with a 5km/s exit velocity if I recall correctly - this would require some work to make a vehicle that could survive such high speeds at relatively low altitudes. At 14,000 feet the air pressure is about 1/2 STP, and at 28,000 it's about 1/4 but there's no satisfactory location that goes to 28,000 feet. But this is getting into highly speculative numbers.

Comment: Re:Those guys want pork funds too? (Score 1) 141

by garyebickford (#46828767) Attached to: Asteroid Impacts Bigger Risk Than Thought

Interesting, thanks. I wasn't aware of these folks, and I'm pretty sure the rest of my partners in Space Finance Group aren't either. We have run several successful Kickstarter projects, including for the National Space Society and The Liftport Group (Michael Laine of Liftport is one of the partners in SFG). We recently completed the rewrite of a business plan and 'pitch deck' for another space launch company. We are also working on equity funding mechanisms for space development, although we're not quite ready to 'go live' with that.

So if these folks are for real, we might be able help them get where they want to go! I'll be contacting them. If anything pans out, you'll be able to say, "I helped them get there." :)

My personal opinion:, while the more 'standard' methods like SpaceX, XCor, Virgin, Blue Origin, and the many more exotic projects like Skylon, etc. (too many to list) are important and will be essential for at least the next 10-20 years, IMHO magnetic launch technology has the best long term potential for reducing costs. I don't think the "Gen 2" version that these folks propose will happen within 100 years if ever. That level of exotic engineering requires a long, long evolution to get there. But a successful Gen 1 system is buildable "today" - by which I mean the engineering will take six to 10 years, and construction another six to 10! This is in the same funding range, again, as the LHC, or the Burj Khalifa - or the various sports-festival boondoggles of late. (These mag-launch folks estimate $20, which may be a better number - I haven't finished reading their material.) So it is in the range of the financial capability of many nations, especially if a few get together.

IIRC Brazil is spending about $6 billion by themselves to host the FIFA World Cup - imagine if they invested that $6 billion as one third of a joint venture space launch system that reduced the cost to LEO from $10K-$20K per pound to even $100 per pound. They could charge $1000 per pound and still be inundated with demand. Their investment could pay for itself in a few years and build a permanent employment base and probably hundreds of spinoff high tech industry facilities, instead of being a sunk cost for a few hours of football fun!

Comment: Re:Those guys want pork funds too? (Score 1) 141

by garyebickford (#46825727) Attached to: Asteroid Impacts Bigger Risk Than Thought

Let's promote the installation of a 5G-capable magnetic launcher (coilgun tech) that goes up the Andes in Ecuador! A 50 mile launcher using a tube that is evacuated of most of its air could replace most or all of the first stage of rockets going to LEO, cutting the cost of launch by 2/3. The technology and project scale are in the same ballpark / order of magnitude as the LHC, and would permanently alter the economics of space development. The last time an equivalent system was thoroughly studied was in the 1970s AFAICT, long before a number of major enabling technologies were mature enough - large superconducting magnets, various materials, control systems, etc.

Comment: It's true - most programmers don't need college (Score 3, Insightful) 287

by garyebickford (#46747959) Attached to: Bachelor's Degree: An Unnecessary Path To a Tech Job

In my long experience as a coder, systems architect, and manager of teams, I have found that for most programming jobs a college degree in CS just isn't necessary. In my early days, few programmers or 'software engineers' even had CS degrees - we had history majors, music majors, a few math majors, etc. Music majors tend to do quite well as they are attracted to patterns and elegance.

Especially today, web programming is rarely concerned with developing deep algorithms, rather with assembling a set of tools. So a mechanical mind may do quite nicely, and a strong desire to make sure things are correct given all possible inputs - like an accountant, a good programmer won't be satisfied unless every 'penny' is accounted for.

When hiring, I often found the CS majors as having an inflated sense of their own abilities, and a general lack of knowledge of how programming is generally done in the real world - hacking on some other schmuck's broken legacy code that nobody can figure out. And a kid who started programming in high school and just kept working at it may have five years of real experience before they get their first job, and does it because he/she can't _stop_ doing it.

The company I work for now has a chief programmer who started writing games in high school, never went to college. He's pretty good, though he needs more real world experience to see how to prevent problems - that's the hardest thing, knowing enough and gettin the habits to avoid the bugs in the first place, which is only possible AFAIK in just experience.

Once they are in the job, then I would definitely encourage, even require, continuing education - go ahead and take some classes, read the books, try things out. Then they will be learning the algorithms, the techniques, in the context of what they already know.

Comment: Re:ok all you smug opensource sheep (Score 1, Insightful) 56

a) I would not say this is the worst ever - it allows random data to be viewed, which may or may not contain something valuable. There is no evidence (yet) that this was actually exploited prior to its publication. Various other breeches have resulted in proven loss of millions of identities, and near-billions in actual money. If it had been exploited very much, it would probably have been tracked down earlier.

Technically it's not the worst - it's the same as literally thousands of other exploited bugs, and just yet another example of why C should not be used for applications programming, at least without a very strong IDE to catch these kinds of problems and perhaps a macro system that forces bounds-checking, etc. 'Programming without a net' is _sometimes_ necessary for programming at the metal interface, but OpenSSL, though needing high performance, is not an example of that. It's also an example of why SW quality methods need to be followed for this kind of code, especially for a relatively new member of the programming team - and why OpenSSL and other OSS projects need our support.

b) Fortunately, the barn door seems to have been shut before much got out. We'll see, but that's the present apparent situation. There will probably be a few relatively small ongoing successful exploits on servers that don't get fixed, as usual. But this is not anything like a wholesale loss of 100 million credit card records.

c) In this case there was a failure of the open source model of 'many eyes'. But there have been thousands of such failures in proprietary software, some of which resulted in most of the really big exploits, that were invisible until the exploit was used. Here, open source at least allowed researchers to identify it before it was really exploited (as far as we know today).

Comment: Re:Financial Institution Vulnerabilities? (Score 2) 56

Indeed. Bank managements are interested in making money, not spending it on IT. A big part of JPMorgan's present problems (and some forthcoming ones that have not hit the fan yet, according to rumor) are due to their CIO's refusal to implement required IT risk management, despite repeated warnings from their auditors. If they fail this aspect of the audit a third time, hundreds of pension funds will be required by law to provide personnel to stand behind the JPM traders and monitor their activities - or move their funds to a different bank. This will be a bad thing for JPM, and fully deserved.

NB: no, I can't provide a citation. Source was a personal discussion. I will note that one of their top risk management people just got fired, basically for bringing this up. That's the third in a row in that position.

Comment: Re:So wait, shotguns are more accurate than the bi (Score 3, Interesting) 307

Research back in the 1930s discovered that there's more to that verse than appears. In Hebrew, the letters are also numbers, and the number values of letters and words are often very significant to the reading. There is a 'jot' ('jot' and 'tittle' are like diacritic marks) in the original, which here means, "look deeper". So with a bit of deeper analysis, one finds that the letters there turn out to make up a fraction. I forget what the fraction is, but it's something like 31/222 or some such, and with the fraction the value is within 1% or less of pi. This is discussed in one of Chuck Missler's research texts, about that book in the Bible.

Comment: Re:The downside may be. (Score 1) 630

by garyebickford (#46708669) Attached to: Navy Debuts New Railgun That Launches Shells at Mach 7

One of the articles I read today says that the Army has already got that going. They are already firing 'smart' projectiles from howitzers and other large guns, and I would think that the accelerations are equivalent.

Just idly thinking about this, solid state electronics can take a lot. When you drop your watch on a concrete floor it may experience 700 G deceleration on impact, at an arbitrary angle.

Comment: Re:IANA Physicist, So... (Score 4, Informative) 630

by garyebickford (#46707473) Attached to: Navy Debuts New Railgun That Launches Shells at Mach 7

There are several advantages to railguns for the Navy, in lethality, cost-per-round, how much ammo you can carry, and overall safety.

Lethality - the kinetic energy of a 'passive' round at these velocities is equivalent to or greater than an explosive round (though I would think it might not be all that useful in all circumstances - just flying through some softer materials instead of blowing them up). As the videos show, the 'kill' factor is substantial. The projectiles are also much less affected by gravitational drop and windage - I would think proportional to the velocity - so accuracy will be better. The higher velocity also allows for firing at much longer range - up to 200 miles vs. 30 for the latest 155mm round.

Cost-per-round - while not as cheap as lasers (the laser about to go through sea trials has a cost of about $1 per shot), these systems should have a cost-per-round an order of magnitude cheaper than the big artillery presently in use. (I just read that 155mm shells cost $50,000 each.) It's much easier, cheaper, and safer to build a solid chunk of tungsten or whatever than a huge shell, especially when the savings in transport and necessary safety systems and procedures is taken into account.

How much - the propellant takes up a lot of space, must be stored in special containment that takes up more space. All of that space can be used to store actual projectiles instead, possibly multiplying the number of rounds available by a factor of 5 to 10. Add to that the the higher kinetic energy allows a smaller projectile to be equally effective, which means you can increase the number even more.

Safety - this eliminates the problem of ammunition exploding either in the ship that will use it, or the supply ship. There are many instances of a single 'lucky' hit on a ship that happens to penetrate the ammunition magazines, whereupon that explosion rips the ship in half. The explosives used in ammunition are also toxic. Removing the propellant greatly increases the survival probability in the event of a hit, and eliminates the probability of an unfortunate accident sinking the ship. This also means the supply ships are safer and can deliver much more ammunition in one trip.

Comment: Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (Score 1) 491

by garyebickford (#46570579) Attached to: How Satellite Company Inmarsat Tracked Down MH370

It is _possible_ to land reasonably safely in the ocean. It requires a lot of skill and luck. Basically the plan has to orient in the same direction as the swells, slow down to just above stall speed (still about 150 knots IIRC), take a nose high attitude to prevent cartwheeling, and basically 'land' as slowly as possible, preferably picking the moment of contact on a wave peak. This of course works much better when the water is flat, which it rarely is in the southern Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean - read up on the "Roaring Forties". Even once you have 'landed', the high waves have enough force to start stressing the plane to the breaking point, and as soon as the doors open the waves are going to play hell with rafts and people trying to get out on them. It's not quite like boarding a raft in a hurricane, but it's close.

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