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Comment Re:Are and storms that fierce on Mars? (Score 2) 80

- space radiation being handwaved away by "Hab is radiation-proof" while it's an inflatable structure.

At least the story is internally consistent: because the Hab is radiation-proof, radio waves don't go through it, which is why Mark Watney has to go outside the Hab just to check his email. (Actually, I think he ought to have strung a network cable; he cheerfully did more difficult tasks than that at various points in the book. But then the plot complication caused by going outside so often might not have occurred.)

When I like a book or movie I tend to try to come up with explanations of anything I wonder about. My explanation of how the Hab is radiation-proof: a superconducting magnetic shield. Only protects against charged particles though...wouldn't stop gamma rays. How common is random gamma radiation on the surface of Mars?

Here's an article about spacecraft using magnetic shields:

P.S. I've also seen reviewers complaining that Mark Watney oversells the dangers of the radiation inside an RTG. In the book at least he is joking around a lot and using imprecise terms such as "box full of radiation" so I don't accept this as a valid complaint.

Comment Re:What about the rights of those injured by firea (Score 1) 1139

and what about the "well regulated Militia" part?

"well regulated" meant "in good order" at the time, not "covered by many laws".

"militia" meant all male citizens of adult age.

Thus, a more modern phrasing of this Amendment would be:

Because it's necessary for a free country to have its citizens be competent with militia weapons, the right of the people to own and carry firearms shall not be infringed.

Comment Re:So much noise about F-35 (Score 1) 320

Being stuck with it "because it was expensive" is just a horrible reason to stick with it.

No, we aren't stuck with the F-35 because it cost so much, we are stuck with the F-35 because the old planes are old and we are having increasing trouble and expense to keep them flying. And, if the F-35 fans are right, the battlefields of the future will increasingly have anti-air missiles, and we will want our pilots flying stealthy planes if possible.

So we are stuck with the F-35 because we need a new plane, and it's the only new plane we have available. The Pentagon put all the eggs into one basket. Don't blame me for saying there's only one basket.

Comment Re:So much noise about F-35 (Score 1) 320

Thank you, whoever you are. I wrote my whole long post because I was hoping that a more-informed person would write a follow-up post and I would learn something.

I had read that the Osprey is a success. I was surprised to read your comments. Part of making the "short-deck carrier" idea work, the marines are going to try using Ospreys for mid-air refuelling. Do you have any opinions on how well that would work?

I am not any kind of expert on military stuff, so I could be completely wrong, but isn't the vertical landing capability of an F-35B a lot better for emergency recovery than normal carrier operations? With normal carrier operations, you absolutely have to get each plane off the deck before another plane can land; but with the vertical landing, in a pinch you should be able to land several planes in rapid succession (biggest worry is whether they melt the deck).

Comment Re:Thinkpad T-series (Score 1) 235

Seconded. I'm using a Thinkpad T440s for work, and when I installed Linux Mint on it, everything Just Worked out of the box. Audio, video, network, WiFi, multitouch... everything.

(Well, the fingerprint reader doesn't do anything right out of the box, but I have read that it can be enabled without too much difficulty. I'm going to look into that before the next time I travel with the laptop. It would be great to unlock the screen with a fingerprint.)

Now that the T450s is out, you might be able to find a deal on an older T440s, and if I were spending my own money I'd be happier to get a T440s cheap than to get the only-slightly-better T450s.

Comment So much noise about F-35 (Score 3, Interesting) 320

I'm interested in the F-35, and I have been reading about it. There is so much noise that it's hard to sift through all of it. It doesn't help that I'm not any sort of military expert.

I have read that the F-35 is disaster piled upon disaster, and I have read that the F-35 is "retiring risks" and converting naysayers into believers. I have read that the F-35 is incredibly expensive to operate, and I have read that it was designed for easy maintenance and that it will save big money in the long run on operating costs. I have read that the design of the F-35 was compromised by the need for a lift fan on the B variant, and I have read that the plane would have been just as wide without the B variant because of the design of the enclosed weapons bay. In short, I keep reading things and then reading the exact opposite from some other source.

Here's what I think I have figured out.

First, the F-35 had better work because at this point we are stuck with it. The old planes are old and getting more expensive to maintain, and in the long run the F-35 is the only reasonable option (but only if it works... if it doesn't do the mission, it is not a "reasonable option"). The Obama administration shut down the F-22 production lines on the theory that we only need a handful of air superiority fighters, and the money would be better spent on the F-35 (and the Growler, according to Wikipedia). It takes forever to make a new plane, and we really don't have a plan B (or "plane B") ready to go. Also, the USA as a strategy would rather spend more money on planes than lose the lives of pilots; it might be cheaper to buy upgraded older planes, but if the "fifth generation fighter" thing works out, and future battlefields increasingly have anti-air missiles, the F-35 might have lower losses in combat than older plane designs.

Second, the F-35 may not be horribly expensive. Right now I don't care about sunk costs... cancelling the F-35 won't get the sunk costs back. All that really matters is the "fly-away cost", the cost to build and equip a new plane, and the F-35 doesn't seem completely unreasonable there (it's now under $100 million for the A variant and trending down). One of the remaining risks is whether production can scale up enough to make F-35s as fast as everyone wants them made, but if that scale-up happens costs will fall further. Again, the big question mark is operating expenses and reliability. If the F-35 needs so much maintenance that it can't fly very often, then it was a bad idea. (And by the way, next time the Pentagon wants to make a new weapons system, then I will be very interested in the sunk costs of this one.)

Third, I'm a cautious believer in the ability of the F-35 to do the missions as long as it's not in the hangar being repaired. It can't win a dogfight with an F-16, but that was never its mission (send an F-22 for that). It basically needs to be able to carry sensors, computers, radios, and missiles, fly long distances, and be a little bit stealthy. I think it can do those things; and once you have the plane, you can upgrade it by improving subsystems. I know, half a century ago, the end of dogfighting was prematurely announced, but with modern missiles and with the stealth features, I think the F-35 will be able to defend itself.

Fourth, I'm not completely certain that the F-35 will be useless for close-air support. The fans of the F-35 claim that the A-10 can't be used effectively against people with any anti-air missiles including shoulder-fired ones; that much of the time in recent years, the A-10 was required to operate from high altitude to avoid being shot down by missiles. The F-35 is not going to fly low and slow over a battlefield and shoot things with a gun, but it could fly past and fire off precision guided munitions, which should work. One thing is for sure: the alleged upcoming test between A-10 and F-35 for close-air support will include simulated anti-air missiles, because if it didn't the A-10 would totally win.

Fifth, I'm actually intrigued by the "short-deck carriers" that the Marines are going to be operating. The incredible staggering expense of building and equipping a "supercarrier" makes me question whether we should build any more of those; maybe it would be better to spend the same amount of money and get multiple smaller carriers that can only use STOVL aircraft like the F-35B and the Osprey. I'm also intrigued by what I have read about the Marines' planned strategy for using STOVL aircraft and mobile forward operating bases to leapfrog-advance air power into a contested area. In short, I think the F-35B will enable some nifty new capabilities.

So, what I think I have figured out is that the USA should buy a whole bunch of F-35s and make them work. Buy a bunch of spare parts and spare engines, make sure to work on improved-technology engines to possibly upgrade the F-35 at a future date, make the augmented reality helmet work. And, never run a weapons system development program this way ever again.

Comment Speculation it was intended to look bomb-like (Score 2) 662

The fine article contains some speculation as to whether it was really intended to be a clock, because it's a poor design for a clock:

It's awful hard to see the clock with the case closed. On the other hand, with the case open, it's awful dangerous to have an exposed power transformer sitting near the snooze button

Well, that makes me wonder if the kid who made the clock mounted the display to be viewed with the case open, or if he cut a hole in the side of the pencil box and mounted the display to be viewed the other way.

Someone familiar with how LED clock displays look from the front and from the back: can you tell which way the clock display was mounted? Was it in fact mounted such that you can't read the time without opening the case?

If you really can't read the clock without opening the case, then it really is an odd design for a clock. If form follows function, then what indeed was the intended function?

I'm wondering how often the kid brought other projects to school, and what the other projects were. I can well imagine a kid that age making a fake bomb to troll everyone, but I can also imagine someone who is just a hobbyist, so I am not going to draw any conclusions here at all.

Comment Re:So not publically not eating your own dog food (Score 3, Interesting) 282

I have worked at Microsoft, and they are all about eating their own dog food. Everyone at Microsoft uses Microsoft products for everything.

And, let me remind you of the fiasco where Microsoft bought Hotmail and switched its servers from UNIX (FreeBSD on front-end servers and some Solaris database servers) to Windows. They had to throw more hardware at the operation and still had problems, but they did it, and they knew going in that they would have more problems with Windows.

But now we are talking about Azure. Microsoft is seriously going for market share in cloud hosting, and most of the customers they are trying to win over are already running their stuff on Linux. So it's not really that embarrassing for Azure to run on Linux... I attended the Linuxfest Northwest conference this year, and Microsoft Azure had a booth in the vendor room where they had signs saying "Microsoft <heart> Linux".

Also, Microsoft is going after the Docker market. They are whipping together something like Docker for running Windows server apps in the cloud, but meanwhile they are all in on supporting Linux Docker apps for Azure. They have ported the Docker admin tools to run on a Windows machine, so that people can control Docker from a Windows machine (while the Docker is still running on Linux, you understand).

Give me a break, this has embarrassing U-turn written all over it.

I disagree about the "embarrassing" part. Microsoft has, in the past, acted like it could control the industry. One reason it acted that way was that it used to succeed more often than not in actually controlling the industry. But it's far too late for Microsoft to kill Linux; they are going to have to co-exist with Linux forever now, and it's not embarrassing for them to act like it.

I remember, about seven years ago, seeing a video at Microsoft that showed a skinny kid on a skateboard as a visual metaphor for Linux. I was amused... did they really think they could convince IT guys to choose Windows over Linux just by sneering at Linux in a marketing video? The Microsoft that made that video could never make its own distro.

In recent years, Microsoft has not shown much ability to adapt. Look at how horrible their strategy was with portable music players and then with mobile devices. But now, the Azure guys are just doing whatever makes the most sense for them, and it is politically possible at Microsoft? That's actually a good omen for Microsoft's future; at least they are not denying reality as much as they used to.

Comment Bad idea from gun-safety standpoint (Score 1) 369

It's possible for a gun to kill the person it shoots. Therefore common gun safety says one may not point a gun at a person unless that person represents a threat that justifies lethal force. Cooper's Second Law of firearms safety: Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.

If some bad guy is a threat, but not a lethal threat, the police office may not point a gun at the bad guy, let alone fire. If that bad guy is a lethal threat, then the police officer should be firing real bullets to end the threat.

In short there are no circumstances under which I would endorse pointing a lethal weapon at someone with the intent to use it non-lethally. Better to have two different weapons, one of which is considered to be guaranteed non-lethal. Oh look, we have tasers for that purpose.

Now, all that said, there are plenty of police officers out there who know better than me. Why, they are trained police officers and they don't need to abide by basic gun safety rules because they know what they are doing. I once had the dubious privilege of having MP5 muzzles pointed in my direction... I was in a room when a SWAT team showed how they do a dynamic entry. I gently chided the senior guy later about pointing real guns at people and he said "eh, they aren't loaded." (Cooper's First Law: All guns are always loaded.)

I read a first-person account from a guy who was erroneously reported to be "squatting" in an apartment. There was a problem with his apartment so the building superintendent told him he could sleep in an unused apartment temporarily. He woke up to find police pointing guns at him. This is unacceptable... they had total situational dominance, he was asleep and had no weapons, so they were not justified in pointing real guns at him. So again, Cooper's Four Laws may not be obeyed all the time in real life by real police. They should be, though.

P.S. I never thought about it this way before, but the phasers in Star Trek are dubious with respect to basic safety. If one failed to correctly set for stun, one might end up disintegrating someone by mistake. This would be fine for a military weapon: if most of the time you plan to use it to kill people, it's a mercy if it has another mode that is less-lethal. But for police and peaceful explorers, it's problematic to have a weapon that combines lethal and non-lethal functions.

I guess it would be okay for phasers to have dual modes if it took a special action to set a phaser into lethal mode, like holding down two red buttons with your off hand while firing. But per canon it was just a thumbwheel setting to switch between "stun" and "lethal" and Kirk was always reminding people to make sure they were set on stun.

Comment What is Plex (Score 5, Informative) 89

Plex is a home media server, forked from XBMC.

Wikipedia says the server is "freemium" so I guess it's free but you can buy upgrades. There are apps for iOS and Android; the apps aren't free either. And there is some kind of cloud account you can get, and use for syncing your content across the Internet.

I've never heard of this before, but it seems worth checking out if you don't already have a media center solution.

Plex web site:

Breakdown of what you can get for free vs. what costs:

Reddit discussion of cost of Plex:

Comment Nexus 9 (Score 1) 283

I have the original Nexus 7, and a Nexus 10, and I just got a Nexus 9.

I like to buy things when they are no longer new and the price drops. I got a Nexus 9 with 32 GB of storage and with LTE cellular data, for $365. Last November I should have had to pay $600 fit the same device.

It is smaller and lighter than the Nexus 10 so I like it better for carrying around, yet the screen works for reading O'Reilly books. The 3:2 screen ratio works better for reading books with tables than the 16:9 screen on the Nexus 7, but the tablet isn't really much bigger. And it's fast... it's a pleasure to surf the web on the thing.

I didn't get the key folio case; I got the inexpensive, thin, and light case. I have a Perixx Bluetooth keyboard for typing.

I am completely happy with my Nexus 9 and II recommend it.

Comment Re:Origional Classification Authority (Score 1) 344

Because Hillary was given special training on being a Original Classification Authority, as much of her work was automatically classified as Top Secret or higher.

I don't know very much about how classified information is handled. You seem to at least know enough to know some lingo pertaining to it.

If you would, please answer a question for me: who do you think Sullivan meant when he said "ops"?

I immediately assumed the worst, that Hillary had a team copying secured emails to her unsecured server ("ops" seemed to me that it likely meant "the people operating Hillary's server"); but Slashdot user "Obfuscant" argues that "ops" must mean an official group that releases sanitized versions of confidential messages in its official capacity.

Is there any official government group that releases previously-secured messages that anyone refers to as "ops"?

Comment Re:I'm not buying the "confused grandma" defense (Score 1) 344

You are either a troll or you been trolled.

Nope, neither.

Hillary made a joke there that seems to have gone over your head. I'd bet my life that Hillary knows enough about the details of computer security that she made that statement as a form of humor, rather than an expression of her understanding of cybersecurity.

First, I agree with you: she understands computer security enough that she knows what "wipe a server" means. IMHO the subtext of that joke is "I'm not going to cooperate with you, you get no straight answer out of me, I'm mocking you instead of answering the question."

But that was a screwup; she's not as good at lying as her husband, the mask slipped and she let her contempt shine through for a moment.

The rest of her comments were to the effect of "I don't know anything about servers".

Here, for your benefit, I transcribed the back-and-forth. Here's the YouTube link so you can check whether my transcription is correct:

at about 2:45 in the video, Ed Henry starts pressing her:

EH: Did you try to wipe the server?

HC: I don't, I have no idea, that's why we turned it over...

EH (interrupting): But you were in charge of it, you were the official in charge, did you wipe the server?

HC: What, like with a cloth or something? [**makes a wiping motion with one hand, and grins**]

EH: I don't know; you know how it works, digitally... did you try to wipe the whole server?

HC: I don't know how it works digitally, at all. I do not have any...

EH: So you didn't try, you did not try?

HC: Ed, I know you want to make a point, and I can just repeat what I have said.

EH: It's a simple... [**unintelligable**]

HC: In order, in order to be as cooperative as possible, we have turned over the server. They can do whatever they want to, with the server, to figure out what's there or what's not there. That's for the people investigating it to try to figure out...

The grin after she said "What, like with a cloth?" suggests that she was joking, but she was not joking when she said "I don't know how it works digitally, at all."

If it's worth hacking on well, it's worth hacking on for money.