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Comment: Re:Would this kind of system have saved Challenger (Score 1) 43

by Michael Woodhams (#48192875) Attached to: A Look At Orion's Launch Abort System

OK, lets rephrase a little, and concentrate on the Challenger failure mode, rather than the actual shuttle.

Imagine a rocket that was compatible with an LES, and also compatible with the Challenger failure mode. (Remove the shuttle, put the liquid fuel engines on the bottom of the external tank, throw a capsule on the top, keep the solid rockets.) Now have the boosters fail in the same way they did with Challenger. Would the LES have sufficient notice to get the capsule to safety?

Comment: Re:Errr.. no... (Score 2) 156

by MobyTurbo (#48057535) Attached to: End of an Era: After a 30 Year Run, IBM Drops Support For Lotus 1-2-3

No, Mod GP -1 inaccurate. Lotus 1-2-3 never ran on the Apple ][ family. It ran on the PC from the get-go. It was launched in 1983, not 1982.

I'll vouch for that since I'm over 40. ;) Darned millenials who get their microcomputer history from vague recollections of wikipedia articles.

Comment: The Giver (Score 1) 410

by Michael Woodhams (#47979439) Attached to: It's Banned Books Week; I recommend ...

I find it fascinating that "The Giver" rates #11 (1990-1999) and #23 (2000-2009) on the ALAs 'Most Frequently Challenged' lists (for (very mildly) discussing sexual arousal in adolescents) and yet, when it gets made into a movie, it gets championed by some as advancing conservative values. (I've read the book but not seen the movie, so I can't comment on how reasonable this view is.)

I'm thinking they wouldn't like my take on the story.


I interpret it as an allegory for the Garden of Eden story. The Community (with its absence of pain and want) can only maintain itself by evil means (e.g. infanticide and involuntary euthanasia) but to have citizens performing evil acts would also destroy its 'idealness'. The way they reconcile these contradictory requirements is by denying their citizens knowledge of good and evil. Jonas attempts to give them this knowledge, which, if he succeeded, would effectively expel The Community from their Eden, hence he is playing the role of the serpent.

Comment: A really impressive demonstration of VR... (Score 3, Interesting) 65

by Michael Woodhams (#47956165) Attached to: New "Crescent Bay" VR Headset Revealed and Demo'd At Oculus Connect

... would be if you walked into the company's hospitality suite at a conference, put on the VR headset, looked around you ... and couldn't tell the difference.

An alien landscape is very cool and photogenic, but might be hiding flaws because we don't know what it is supposed to look like. It is a fair demonstration of immersive game worlds, which will be one of the big initial uses of VR, so the demonstration is not invalidated by this.

Comment: Re:Down the Drain (Score 1) 368

by Michael Woodhams (#47869307) Attached to: Report: Microsoft To Buy Minecraft Studio For $2bn+

Scenario A:
Notch sells Mojang to a respected community friendly company for a reasonable price of a few hundred million. Mojang's employees and customers are reasonably happy.
Scenario B:
Notch sells Mojang to Microsoft for $2B. Mojang's employees are very unhappy. The customers are fairly unhappy but if they get too unhappy there are clones out there to migrate to, or they can just play the current version without further updates.
Scenario C:
Notch sells Mojang to Microsoft for $2B and gives each of his employees $1M as a present. Notch is still way richer than in scenario A, employees are happier, customers still have the migrate or no updates options.

If I had a cheap effective cure for malaria and a company I didn't trust offered me 10 times what I thought it was worth, I'd likely not sell. But for a smallish computer game company, I can do more good with $2B than any plausible evil that could come of the sale.

However, I am going to download the latest Minecraft development snapshot tonight so as to not miss out on slime blocks should I need to abandon updates.

Comment: Re:Learn from History, Please (Score 1) 75

by Michael Woodhams (#47813033) Attached to: SpaceX Challenges Blue Origin Patents Over Sea-Landing Rocket Tech

I've expressed this sentiment as: you should be allowed to patent (non-obvious) solutions, you should never be allowed to patent a problem.

However, my expression of the issue is poorly defined as the problem/solution boundary is not clear. Is the problem "reusing rocket hardware" and "landing at sea" the solution, or is "reusing rocket hardware which is naturally coming down into the sea" the problem and "guiding it to the landing platform and securing it" the solution?

You use "concept" and "implementation" where I use "problem" and "solution", but the boundary issue will still exist. (Which is not to say that we shouldn't try.)

Comment: Re:Interesting problem with water landing -- wind (Score 1) 75

by Michael Woodhams (#47812977) Attached to: SpaceX Challenges Blue Origin Patents Over Sea-Landing Rocket Tech

Changing your landing point is very easy - you just slightly change the attitude of the rocket during its retro burn, changing the horizontal component of the acceleration. Changing your landing point to where you want it to be is harder, but the SpaceX people seem to be making good progress on this. (Except that they just blew up their test vehicle...)

Comment: A long list of possibilities (Score 1) 245

by Michael Woodhams (#47803469) Attached to: Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

I've been interested in this for some time. Here are some solutions I've come across:
Something like a standard battery
Flow batteries, where you store liquid electrolytes in tanks, and energy capacity is proportional to the capacity of the tanks
Salt/Liquid metal batteries. Take the process for smelting aluminium, and make it reversible. (The metal used need not be aluminium.) There is a good TED talk on this.
Fixed volume compressed gas storage: pump gas into a pressure vessel or abandoned mine
Fixed pressure compressed gas storage: pump gas into a bladder deep under water. This works well for off shore wind farms, as they have the deep water right there. Otherwise you need a convenient lake or flooded mine.
Elevated water reservoir. Needs the right topography and hydrography, so doesn't work everywhere.
Variable output hydro power: similar to the above, but instead of pumping water uphill you just increase/decrease the downhill flow that already exists, to match you output to the production shortfall of the time variable generators. If you already have hydro power, this is very cheap, possibly free. At worst you need to increase peak capacity by adding turbines.
Heat storage: store energy as heat in a large thermal mass, extract it with some form of heat engine.

Complementary to this, we can also try to time-shift demand:
Off-peak water heating. This has been around for many decades.
Off-peak heating/cooling using thermal storage (e.g. an insulated water tank under your house from which your radiators are fed.)
Off-peak charging of plug-in electric cars. (We can even use peak-hour extraction of power from the electric cars.) This is cheap in that those batteries are already there for other purposes. It does cost if they batteries have a limited number of recharge cycles (which currently they do.)

Comment: I'm really not buying it (Score 3, Interesting) 128

by Michael Woodhams (#47754129) Attached to: Why Do Humans Grow Up So Slowly? Blame the Brain

For most species, childhood is all risk, no benefit (where benefit = breeding), and so it is to be got through as fast as possible (or at least in time for next breeding season). If glucose shortage was the only reason for doubling the length of our childhood, there would be a huge evolutionary pressure towards kids who could metabolize much more food and reach adulthood in half the time.

There is an obvious reason why humans have such a long childhood - it is because we have so very much to learn. Little bodies can learn as well as big bodies, and cost less to maintain.

Comment: Economic risk (Score 1, Flamebait) 143

by Michael Woodhams (#47717771) Attached to: How Argonne National Lab Will Make Electric Cars Cheaper

Some new game changing battery/supercapacitor breakthrough might be just around the corner. If so, all that investment in the battery megafactory could get wiped out. Ditto with investing in lithium mining.

So the megafactory might be still happily minting money 25 years from now, or it might be nearly worthless 5 years from now. Presumably this means we'll be paying a risk premium on lithium and lithium batteries. It seems to me that it would be smart for Tesla to be investing in the very technologies that might disrupt their factory, as an insurance policy. That way, if the fortune you've invested in the factory evaporates, hopefully you'll have a new replacement fortune due to having a stake in the new technology. However, this strategy requires that you have the funds for this speculative investment, and has you encouraging the very research which will ruin your factory investment. (Also, maybe you won't have invested in the right places and won't have a stake in the new technology.) In the case of Tesla, they are major consumers as well as (soon to be) major manufacturers of batteries, so there is an additional up-side to investing in the hypothetical tech breakthrough.

Is lithium mining expanding fast enough to feed this factory when it comes online?

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. -- Nero Wolfe