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Comment Re:Can't wait to get one in my watch. (Score 2) 154

I have a watch from the 1940s that's still giving out plenty of radiation. Sadly, the phosphor is all used up so it doesn't glow at all.

Early glow in the dark paints used a mixture of radium and phosphor. The decay from the radium would excite the phosphor and make it glow. Unfortunately it also broke down the phosphor, so while radium lasts for centuries, the paint doesn't.

Comment Re:Renewables will never work (Score 1) 340

The small fraction in that case would be 23%, not 2/3. Because nuclear, while not a fossil fuel, isn't a renewable either, and that's what the op was talking about.

That said I actually think 23% is a pretty impressive - at least until you remember that electricty is only a smallish proportion of total energy use. I found this diagram helpful in showing the way things are:

http://www.iea.org/Sankey/#?c=...

Comment Re:Renewables will never work (Score 1) 340

and that is ALWAYS, if you spread them out wide enough.

Yes, but that is a very wide spread and therefore a very big if. The ideal energy mix would be nuclear for base load, and then wind/solar with hydro available to handle variability in the renewables. But that requires geography that's hydro friendly, which most of the world isn't. CCGT will do for now in handling variable load until some kind of battery grid becomes available.

Comment Too many not too few (Score 5, Interesting) 348

The issue isn't just that the media will decay, it's that the media is too cheap. There is no incentive to curate our documents, and we will end up with so many still in existence, no-one in future ages will have the inclination to wade through the rubbish.

When people had paper photographs, they soon accumulated boxes of albums, and by 1990, those holiday snaps from 1970 were kind of dusty and not worth keeping. So people chucked them out. But of course they looked through them first and kept a couple of photos, maybe even got those framed. All of which means that when they died in 2010, their kids had only maybe 100 photos to look through, and decide what was worth holding on to.

Now, our holiday snaps are uploaded to the cloud. They aren't a nuisance, and we never get rid of any. When we die, maybe our kids will be able to get a drive or an account key, or something, with 20,000 photos on. Do you really think they will do more than look at a few random ones, before adding them to their own 5,000 photos?

Same with our emails, our whatsapp messages, our blog posts.

The total amount of media from our age will still be significant - the sheer quantity produced ensures that much will remain. But what remains intact won't do so because of its significance to our age. We don't bury our most valuable items in the ground for safety, or lock them in huge chests, or keep them in safes.

Comment Re:Test it with the following (Score 1) 88

Yes, they will. We used to do this for translating medical papers. The paper would go from English to Chinese and then that would be sent to a different translation company to be re-translated into English. The derived English would then be subject to the same level of clinical and copy editor review as the original. If it didn't pass the Chinese translation would be rejected.

It's extremely expensive, but it can be done. We did this with millions of words, and it cost millions of pounds. No automatic translation would have stood a chance, because those machines aren't trained on clinical text. Hell, there isn't even enough translated medical text like that too use as a training corpus yet!

Comment No but I'm optimistic (Score 1) 385

I still get round to ripping old DVDs, and very very occasionally old CDs, that I pick up in second hand shops. I've not loaded a data CD for years.

I'd be loath to get rid of my optical drive from my hulking great tower PC though. Partly because I have some old backup media that I want to be able to read again one day. (Yes I know I could move it to disk / cloud / whatever and that the CDs are probably degraded already).

But mainly, a bit like getting hand written letters, I'm sort of hoping for the day I get to open a nice jewel case, pop the unscratched new disk in, and wait in anticipation while it spins up. Nostalgia.

Comment Re:38,000 cubic meters of helium? (Score 4, Interesting) 173

The helium market is more complicated than people think. MRIs and superconductors need very pure helium, often in liquid form. Party balloons and (I assume) airships don't. So when helium becomes contaminated with air (which it does very easily) what do you do? Answer, you mainly vent it to the atmosphere, because your average research institute or hosptial can't possibly afford to install the equipment to recover pure (and possibly liquid) helium (what they need) from a helium-air gas mix. It makes more sense to sell the helium-air mix to balloon and airship manufacturers.

Comment Re:Very Basic Income (Score 3, Interesting) 618

I've known homeless people, and they were indeed refused support by their family. Family in this case was dad, who was a ornery SOB and disowned his son for going to university instead of working on the farm. Nice.

The son was a slightly geeky maths student. He screwed up some paperwork and didn't get any housing allocated by the university one term. He slept on a mate's floor while trying to sort it out. Then he felt the mate might be getting fed up with him, so he lied and pretended he had somewhere.

Then he started sleeping during the day in the computer lab (how I met him) and just wandering around at night. This didn't do his grades much good, and he dropped off the course.

Once you've been sleeping rough for a very short space of time your mental health nosedives. Asking anyone for help becomes very hard - it's a challenge just keeping basically clean and fed. Note that he had some money (unemployment benefit), just nowhere to live. He could afford to eat, but without access to a kitchen he either ate only cold food, or had to buy (relatively expensive) take-away food. As a single young male you are not on the top of the queue to be housed by the state.

In the end he escaped, and last I met him he had a job, house and girlfriend. But I've seen how someone can become homeless, it doesn't take much, and once it begins it's very hard to stop.

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