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Comment 10x safer = easy (Score 2, Informative) 193

Just switching from a fragile tile-covered aircraft strapped to the side of a flaking-foam-covered hydrogen tank to an inherently ballistically stable capsule placed as far from the flaming end of the rocket as possible (i.e., on top of it) will achieve the desired 10x safety factor improvement. NASA has been tied to its delta-winged boondoggle for several decades too long. If they would eliminate the segmented, non-throttleable solid rocket boosters (currently still in the plan thanks to Morton Thiokol's lobbyists) they could improve safety another 10x. And if they want to do all this at minimum cost, they could just buy Soyuz vehicles, the world's safest, most reliable manned space transportation system. Of course, national pride would allow this to happen only sometime after Putin declares his undying love for country music and Harley-Davidsons.

Comment too bad 40% of Web browsers can't use it (Score 1) 181

HTML5 canvas has a lot of potential. Once accelerated 3D graphics in the browser is standard, the potential uses and demand for content will be huge: visualizations, innovative interfaces, attention-grabbing content, digital art, games...
But IE doesn't support canvas so any site that relies on it for anything more than trivial rendering will be unusable by almost half of Internet users (current IE browser share: ~40%, according to w3schools). Probably Microsoft sees canvas as a threat to Silverlight so won't work with it until they absolutely have to.
Here's a canvas animation demo I wrote. Looks fine on Firefox, Chrome, Safari, iPhone... barely works on IE using emulated support for the canvas element.

Comment If you liked that, you might like these (Score 1) 321

Here's my latest HTML5 canvas demo:
Should work fine on recent Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iPhone browsers. Animates with glacial slowness and lower quality on IE since this uses excanvas.js emulation. Non-functional on Konqueror.
More canvas demos:

Comment Ares = engineering snafu designed by lobbyists (Score 1) 151

The elephant in the room (which doesn't get enough attention) is that the Ares rocket design is fundamentally flawed due to politics taking precedence over engineering. The Ares first stage will be a solid rocket booster which not only is inherently less controllable than a liquid fueled rocket (since it can't be throttled), but also makes the whole vehicle aerodynamically unstable (since it has a smaller diameter than the upper stage). The proposed reusable solid first stage has the same segmented design that caused the Challenger shuttle explosion when inter-segment seals burned through. It may have problems with severe in-flight vibration which cannot be dealt with by throttling engine power, leading to absurd hacks involving giant shock absorbers. Why is this poor up front design being officially pitched by NASA? Because of the high-powered, big money political lobbying of Morton Thiokol, the Shuttle's Solid Rocket Booster producer, which saw its meal ticket vanishing with the Shuttle retirement. Why has every other human-rated rocket (aside from the Shuttle) been liquid fueled with progressively smaller stages? Because the engineers went with the best design instead of having key pieces decided a priori by senators with law degrees and pockets full of contractor dollars. It will be truly pathetic if NASA winds up with another unreliable, problematic, unsafe vehicle due to back-room lobbying by government contractors. NASA engineers realize the truth which is why they are openly calling for a better design concept. Morton Thiokol should be forced to independently build its own solid-fuel rocket and participate in a fair competition with other rocket designs instead of using back-channel politics to sell its products.

The Courts

RIAA Backs Down In Austin, Texas 230

NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In November, 2004, several judges in the federal court in Austin, Texas, got together and ordered the RIAA to cease and desist from its practice of joining multiple 'John Does' in a single case. The RIAA blithely ignored the order, and continued the illegal practice for the next four years, but steering clear of Austin. In 2008, however, circumstances conspired to force the record companies back to that venue. In Arista v. Does 1-22, in Providence, Rhode Island, they were hoping to get the student identities from Rhode Island College. After the first round, however, they learned that the College was not the ISP; rather, the ISP was an Austin-based company, Apogee Telecom Inc., meaning the RIAA would have to serve its subpoena in Austin. The RIAA did just that, but Apogee — unlike so many other ISP's — did not turn over its subscribers' identities in response to the subpoena, instead filing objections. This meant the RIAA would have to go to court, to try to get the Court to overrule Apogee's objections. Instead, it opted to withdraw the subpoena and drop its case."

Comment Re:dumbification (Score 5, Informative) 223

In April 2008 a Soyuz made an uncontrolled reentry due to failure of the service module to separate during the de-orbit sequence. The cosmonauts survived due to the inherent ballistic stability and fail-safety of the design:

NASA has finally conceded that the safest place for the astronauts is on top of the launch stack, with abort rockets to escape a failing lower stage, and with no exposure to damage from falling debris. These factors plus the increased safety of ballistic reentry explain the return to capsules with the Constellation system.

Shuttle vs. Soyuz Reliability

Soyuz vs Shuttle

Comment dumbification (Score 5, Insightful) 223

The mainstream media once again lives up to its long history of mangling science stories.

The report cites 5 specific fatal aspects of the loss of Columbia: depressurization, extreme dynamic loads, separation of the crew from the vehicle, exposure to space, and ground impact. Implying that this really means inadequate restraint systems is a joke. No amount of safety hardware would permit surviving the breakup and uncontrolled re-entry of (pieces of) your spacecraft.

Due to NASA politics, the report omits a more accurate summary statement that the Shuttle is an inherently flawed and unsafe design when compared to ballistically stable capsules that can and do survive uncontrolled re-entry.

Comment not surprising (Score 1) 417

Though not a hardcore climber, I've summited numerous 14,000+ ft peaks in Colorado.

The fact that most Everest climbers die from altitude effects while descending is not surprising. Altitude sickness hits gradually and most of them realized they were ill (or their more lucid companions did) and were in the process of trying to get down when they died. At such heights oxygen deprivation kills you before you have time to freeze to death.

More than falling, exposure, altitude, or any other specific risk, "summit fever" is the single greatest danger of mountaineering. When people are fixated on summiting regardless of conditions (including physical exhaustion) they place themselves at an elevated and unnecessary risk of death. Everest expeditions involving gung-ho newbies who have paid large amounts of money for a single-shot attempt inevitably leads to a high death rate, since these sacrificial victims are both maniacally obsessed with reaching the top and incapable of objectively evaluating the situation.

Everest climbs should be limited to those who have proven high-altitude mountaineering experience. Guides who profit by leading inexperienced tourists into extreme danger should be villified, especially those who have the gall to come down unscathed while leaving behind the frozen corpses of their clients. They're the ones creating Everest's culture of death.

- Paul


Study Confirms Mobile Phones Distract Drivers 439

An anonymous reader notes a Reuters report of a study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, confirming that Mobile phone calls distract drivers far more than even the chattiest passenger, causing drivers to follow too closely and miss exits. California's ban on using a handheld cell phone while driving, which went into effect last summer, is looking less than fully effective. A handful of other states have instituted similar bans, but none has forbidden driving while talking on a cell phone at all. "Using a hands-free device does not make things better and the researchers believe they know why — passengers act as a second set of eyes, shutting up or sometimes even helping when they see the driver needs to make a maneuver."

Comment rest of your life = ~2 years (Score 1) 528

Buzz knew the odds were high of Apollo 11 being the end of his life. Someone traveling 400m km away from the nearest breathable atmosphere understands that completely. A Mars mission that budgets mass for a return capability gives up many years worth of resources. The immense expenditure of traveling to Mars make it insane just to spend a few days or weeks on the planet. The astronauts must be prepared to stay for a period that is well past their life expectancy given the many risks, even if theoretically they have can return.

The ultimate billionaire stunt: get a Soyuz TM, load a 1 year supply of ramen noodles and beer, use a satellite booster to shoot it trans-Mars and back. Live deep space podcasts!


Vista SP1 Update Locks Out Some Users 410

Echostorm writes with word that Windows Vista SP1, which began rolling out via Automatic Update, has left some users' machines unbootable. The update loops forever on "Configuring updates: Stage 3 of 3 — 0% complete. Do not turn off your computer." "Shutting down"... restart and loop. Echostorm notes having found traces of what sounds like the same bug in early beta releases of SP1. It's unclear how many users are affected. So far there is no word on a fix from Microsoft.

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