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Comment Re:Simple question (Score 3, Insightful) 59

Well, it makes lunar habitation feasible in the relatively nearer future.

Consider this analogous question: did the discovery of the cancer gene BRCA1 affect anyone at all? To your way of thinking, no, because it didn't immediately cure anyone's cancer. It only affected the lives of a very small number of cancer scientists by pointing them down promising avenues of research.

Comment Re:Inquiring minds want to know (Score 2) 223

Depends on the altitude of the blast. EMP is primarily produced by the interaction of gamma rays with the upper atmosphere. A single large warhead detonated at an altitude calculated for maximum casualties would almost certainly NOT produce the kind of EMP effects lazy thriller writers have taught the public are an inevitable part of any nuclear attack.

I know this because I've critiqued a number of science fiction manuscripts, and the "huge bomb creates the end of technological civilization" scenario is so popular as an inciting incident in crummy manuscripts that I actually did the research that the authors didn't do. The optimal profile for an EMP attack is a large number of small, non-thermonuclear atomic warheads detonated well above the stratosphere. This is not to say there would be *no* EMP effects of a ground level burst, but they're likely to affect long conductors like transmission lines, not the printed circuit traces in a transistor radio.

Comment Re: I was there... (Score 4, Informative) 223

Nope. The radius of destructive effect rises as the 2/3 power of yield. That's because the energy is dissipated in a three dimensional volume, and you're calculating the radius of intersection of that volume with a two dimensional surface. TL;DR: 20x the yield equals 7x the destructive radius.

Anyhow you can look up on the expected fatal radius by bomb type and yield, and the immediately fatal thermal effects of the warhead NK tested for an unprotected individual would be less than 5 miles, although many closer would survive because of shelter. Honolulu is about 12 miles across. If you put the warhead in the geographic center of the city to maximize casualties a lot of people on either end will survive. A lot of them will be uninjured too. The 5 psi blast radius is only three miles, outside that radius even residential buildings will still stand and people shaded by them will likely escape uninjured if they can get inside before the fallout.

Comment Re:Inquiring minds want to know (Score 3, Informative) 223

Baby boomer here. I remember when they taught this shit in school. Stay in your house, away from windows, keep curtains drawn. Have a battery radio and fill up containers with drinking water.

There are multiple ways for a nuclear strike to kill you: ionizing radiation burn, pressure wave, thermal radiation burn, firestorm, and fallout. Each has its own characteristic radius within which you will probably die from it, but your chances are improved by being inside.

You car would be a bad idea for many reasons unless it is in a garage. If your car is outside it will get quickly covered with very hot short-lived radioactive fallout. The gamma rays will cut through your car like it wasn't even there. You want physical distance to cut down your radiation dose until the hottest isotopes decay. The area in which the fallout will kill you quickly actually begins to contract after only an hour or so, even though the fallout is spreading. The area in which short exposures to fallout represents a health risk starts to drop after a day.

Get inside, stay inside, listen on the radio for the all clear.

Comment Re: I was there... (Score 5, Insightful) 223

The closest Hiroshima survivor was in a cellar only 300 m from ground zero -- which is very close when you consider that the bomb was detonated at 500 m altitude.

Now the device North Korea tested back in September was 10x to 20x more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, but still if a bomb were detonated over Pearl Harbor and you were standing on the beach in Waikiki, you'd almost certainly survive, albeit possibly with thermal burns.

Here's the thing about all that Duck and Cover stuff from the 50s: when you're talking about a handful of bombs distributed over the entire country, diving under a picnic blanket actually makes sense. It wont' help you if you're at ground zero, but if you're five miles away or so it could make the difference between surviving uninjured or requiring hospital treatment. Multiply that by tens of thousands of people, and duck and cover type education is a sensible defensive strategy.

There is, however, a simple counter: attack with a lot more warheads. By the early 70s the Soviets had something like 25,000 of them. An all-out attack would not only result in multiple bombs falling on every city, it would guarantee the collapse of American society and a short and hellish existence for anyone unlucky enough to survive. Fatalism makes sense in that scenario. You might as well enjoy the show for a few hundred milliseconds and then die.

That's not where we are with a North Korean nuclear attack, not by a long shot. North Korea's arsenal is not large enough yet to cause the collapse of American society, or even to kill the majority of people in a city like Honolulu. So maybe we should be dusting off those old civil defense films.

Comment Re:The nerd connection (Score 2) 94

Terry Gross is probably the best in the world at what she does.

Wow, I just couldn't disagree more. I stopped listening to her years ago because of her softball interviewing style, with questions that are either uninformed or ignorant or that just plain miss the point. If her interview subjects end up saying really interesting things, it's not because of anything Terry Gross did. I think she's really terrible, and I'm not talking about political interviews, either. If she had Guillermo del Toro on, I expect she'd ask him how he first got interested in water.

Comment Re:"Balky" (Score 1) 41

Words are like nice new wood chisels that get stored in a common work area. They don't stay sharp long because people keep misusing them.

"Balky" means "tending to refuse to respond as directed". If you have a car which often fails to start, that is a balky car. Balkiness is a tendency to a particular kind of malfunction, but the submitter here used it as a synonym for "malfunctioning".

Comment Re:The nerd connection (Score 5, Insightful) 94

Terry Gross is probably the best in the world at what she does. I find that interesting. How did she get that way? Well it turns out that fear of not being good enough is at least part of what makes her good at her job. I find that interesting too.

How did she end up doing what she does? She failed at something else (being a writer). That's something that resonates in tech.

And she talks about making the trolls angry.

But ultimately being exposed to different information than you're used to isn't tantamount to an injury. It's good for you, just like reading an article on technology would be good for someone who mainly reads about public affairs, or art history.

Comment I would use computers... (Score 4, Insightful) 498

To look up all the excellent work done by mathematicians, economists, political scientists and cryptographers on (a) how to conduct votes and (b) how to use votes to select candidates, before I bang together my own half-baked proportional representation scheme.

The maybe I'd write an R routine to detect gerrymandered states (actually quite easy if you've taken the first step above) and then hack into politicians' social media accounts so I could blackmail them into outlawing partisan gerrymandering.

Comment Re:Mobile is good enough for most. (Score 1) 217

I've been saying this for a long time in the context of desktop OS features. We don't need them anymore.

Desktop computers are still useful. Having a large screen and keyboard is still the way to go for performing tasks. But they can stop trying to be the digital switchboard for your life. Nobody who has a smartphone needs all those bells and whistles. I never, ever need my desktop to notify me of anything anymore.

That's why I use i3.

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