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Comment: Cryptonomicon: Shanghai Banks (Score 3, Interesting) 263

by handy_vandal (#48831175) Attached to: Google Releases More Windows Bugs

I'm reminded of Neal Stephenson's description of Shanghai banks on the eve of World War 2:

Here you've got the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank of course, City Bank, Chase Manhattan, the Bank of America, and BBME and the Agricultural Bank of China and any number of crappy little provincial banks, and several of those banks have contracts with what's left of the Chinese Government to print currency. It must be a cutthroat business because they slash costs by printing it on old newspapers, and if you know how to read Chinese, you can see last year's news stories and polo scores peeking through the colored numbers and pictures that transform these pieces of paper into legal tender.

As every chicken-peddler and rickshaw operator in Shanghai knows, the money-printing contracts stipulate that all of the bills these banks print have to be backed by such-and-such an amount of silver; i.e., anyone should be able to walk into one of those banks at the end of Kiukiang Road and slap down a pile of bills and (provided that those bills were printed by that same bank) receive actual metallic silver in exchange.

Now if China weren't right in the middle of getting systematically drawn and quartered by the Empire of Nippon, it would probably send official bean counters around to keep tabs on how much silver was actually present in these banks' vaults, and it would all be quiet and orderly. But as it stands, the only thing keeping these banks honest is the other banks.

Here's how they do it ...

Continue reading ...

Comment: No SCOBY Leather. No! (Score 1) 52

by handy_vandal (#48558507) Attached to: Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus

Don't be fooled into thinking that "kombucha leather" (aka SCOBY leather) is suitable for this application.

Kombucha/SCOBY is interesting stuff, and yes, the SCOBY mat can be dried out to make a "leather-like" substance.

That is -- SCOBY leather is "somewhat leather-like" when perfect dry.

It's also hygrophilic, meaning it has an affinity for moisture.

In other words, it's always kind of damp and sticky, even in a relatively dry environment.

Expose it to rain, and you've got a sloppy, slippery, un-leather-like mess on your hands. I say this from personal experience.

Also, it smells like cat urine.

Comment: Lampreys in the Great Lakes (Score 4, Informative) 118

by handy_vandal (#48545035) Attached to: How One Man Changed the Ecology of the Great Lakes With Salmon

Four lampreys are native to the Michigan Great Lakes region. Two are parasitic; two not. The two parasitic species, while they cause deep wounds, rarely kill their hosts.

The Sea Lamprey is the relatively recent invader (1930s-40s) which has caused ecological havoc.


Comment: Cosmic DNA? (Score 3, Informative) 47

by handy_vandal (#48531295) Attached to: Researchers Design DNA With New Shapes and Structures

Space dust may store information as a double helix.

A new computer simulation shows that dust immersed in ionized gas (i.e., dusty plasmas) can organize itself into double helixes. The simulations suggested that under conditions commonly found in space, the dust particles first form a cylindrical structure that sometimes evolved into helical structures. Along some spirals, the radius of the helix was seen to change abruptly from one value to another and then back again, providing a mechanism for storing information in terms of the length and radius of a section of a spiral.

Hessdalen light

Comment: Yesterday's Science Fiction, Today's Fact (Score 1) 35

by handy_vandal (#48345711) Attached to: Researchers Develop Remote-Controlled Cyber-Roaches

I am reminded of a passage from Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967):

He did not move his head, but reached out to crush a beetle that stood near his hand. The tip of a small crystal and two tiny wires protruded through the broken chitin of its back.

An excellent novel, one of my favorites.

Sadly, the Avon edition that I used to own was the absolute worst example of typographical errors I have ever seen: at least a dozen cases of misplaced or duplicated lines. Bad enough that I could no longer enjoy re-reading a book so grievously mangled by the publisher.

Don't say it -- stop -- I'll say it myself: the book was full of bugs.

If a thing's worth doing, it is worth doing badly. -- G.K. Chesterton