* Posts by Andy Baird

49 posts • joined 9 Feb 2008

Behold, the Ultimately Large Telescope: A revived proposal for a 100-metre liquid-mirror star scanner on the Moon

Andy Baird

Lunar astronomy is the way to go

I don't have an opinion about this particular proposal, but it's clear that optical astronomy on Earth is pretty much doomed. In the next decade or two we'll have about fifty thousand small comsats of the Starlink type in low earth orbit, making almost any kind of optical astronomy a lost cause. It doesn't matter how much antireflective coating they have; that many birds flying around will completely mess up visual observation. They may even make radio astronomy impossible.

That means any and all plans for Earth-based giant telescopes ought to be scrapped now, before any more money is wasted. The only practical places to do optical astronomy will be in orbit (Earth or Lagrange), or on the Moon. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but the Moon offers a ready source of materials, so it's probably the best bet in the long run.

What a time to be alive: Floating Apple store bobs up in Singapore

Andy Baird

"Floating"? Really?

I'm seeing a lot of "Floating Apple Store" headlines lately. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that structure is solidly anchored to bedrock. Could El Reg's headline writers confirm or deny, please?

In case you need more proof the world's gone mad: Behold, Apple's $699 Mac Pro wheels

Andy Baird

I've been using Apple products since 1984. I *like* Apple as a company. But the pricing of these $699 wheels (and the $199 legs, and the $999 stand) is just embarrassing. It makes Apple a laughingstock and fully merits sneering comments about the "Apple Tax."

French pensioner ejected from fighter jet after accidentally grabbing bang seat* handle

Andy Baird

Not as funny as it sounds

I remember a 1980 incident at an open house/airshow at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in the US many years ago. A 7-year-old was allowed to sit in the cockpit of a (parked) jet fighter. Unfortunately, the ground crew had not safetied the ejection seat system. When the boy grabbed the wrong handle, he was ejected through the canopy. He did not survive.


I cannae do it, captain, I'm giving it all she's got, but she just cannae take another dose of bullsh!t

Andy Baird

"microspectroscopy sounds like an easy win, low-hanging fruit for a device maker looking for the next must-have feature."

Already been done--look up Scio, a small, affordable IR spectrometer with associated iOS app that's designed for exactly this purpose (food assessment). I have one, though I haven't really done much with it.

LOHAN's Plucky Playmonaut touches down at Spaceport America

Andy Baird

Good eats in TorC

Truth or Consequences is a sleepy little town that's graced by a restaurant worthy of a big city: Café BellaLuca at 303 Jones Street is absolutely my favorite in the whole state. The menu is Italian-inspired, but with creative twists. In the five or six years I've been eating there, I've never had a bad meal. I highly recommend it.

HP’s ENORMO-SLAB: The Slate 21 MONSTER tablet

Andy Baird

How is this a tablet?

It has no battery. It can't be used handheld. So what justifies the "tablet" monicker? If you had called it a "good inexpensive all-in-one computer," I'd have no beef. But this device is no more a tablet than my 27" iMac.

Surface 2 and iPad Air: Prepare to meet YOUR DOOM under a 'Landfill Android' AVALANCHE

Andy Baird

"There can be only one winner"

Of course. That's why we're all driving Chevrolets, and all the other carmakers went out of business long ago. Right?

'WTF! MORONS!' Yahoo! Groups! redesign! traumatises! users!

Andy Baird

Yes, Yahoo Groups still matter

Sneer if you like, but there are hundreds of active Yahoo groups devoted to special interests and hobbies, and the recent "Neo" UI makeover has affected all of them. For the past ten years I've been moderating a 5,000+ member group devoted to RVing (lifewithalazydazerv), so I've seen the effects of the malignant "Neo"-plasm at first hand.

It isn't that the "Neo" UI is bad per se--it's actually a improvement in some ways, although it's far too reliant on "mystery meat" navigation. I'm still stumbling upon undocumented, invisible functions, and I mean basic functions like changing the group's banner photo.

The real problem is that the rollout (staggered over the past week) has been unbelievably buggy. Yahoo has been slowly patching bugs, but I still have a list as long as my arm of things that don't work as they should.

For example, all existing folders whose names contained an ampersand ("Repairs & Maintenance") simply disappeared. Embedded links that end in a stroke or slash (http://www.andybaird.com/travels/) are truncated, resulting in 404 errors when clicked. Linefeeds and returns are stripped, so that posts show up as one long block of text instead of several paragraphs.

Basic punctuations such as apostrophes show up OK on the group's website, but are converted to HTML entities (&39;) in the emailed digests, making them nearly unreadable. The website's formatting is badly screwed up when viewed on an iPad, and Android tablet users report that it doesn't work at all on that platform. And so on, ad nauseam.

Mind you, this is after a week of Yahoo's fix-it efforts. When the "Neo" UI was first rolled out, it was completely unusable. Now it's in about the same state as a 1957 Renault Dauphine that's been rusting in a barnyard for forty years.

It's painfully obvious that little or no testing was done by Yahoo prior to rollout, because anybody who looked at the initial version for as much as than sixty seconds would have seen half a dozen problems with it. The fact that initially, it didn't work at all on iPhones/iPods Touch/iPads, and still doesn't work on Android phones and tablets, is astonishing, given Marissa Mayer's repeated statements that Yahoo needs to focus on mobile devices.

If this is the new Yahoo, then Mayer has failed dismally.

BlackBerry CEO: Tablets will be dead in 5 years

Andy Baird

Re: Genius of Apple when you think about it...

"only one competitor was able to copy [Apple's] success - perhaps two if you include the Linux-based Kindle"

Except that the Kindle Fire tablets are sold at a loss in order to support Amazon's content-consumption business, so you can't really call them competitive as hardware devices. No, I'm afraid there is only one successful tablet maker besides Apple, and that of course is Samsung.

Foxconn's revenue down on slowing iPad, iPhone sales

Andy Baird

Let's think about this

I know people have short memories, but it's getting ridiculous. Consider the news we've seen from Hon Hai/Foxconn in the last quarter: they made big investments in infrastructure, building plants I'm Brazil and elsewhere. Pressured by Apple, they implemented new worker safety measures. And they gave workers a substantial raise, in response to complaints that they were underpaying. All these things cost money... lots of money.

So their revenue is down after they spent a bunch of money. That seems pretty straightforward, no? Well, no. Because whatever the facts, the tech journos' spin is that Apple (only one of Hon Hai's many big customers) is doomed. Apple is always doomed. Apple has been doomed for the past 38 years. Apple has been doomed as it rose to become the largest tech company in the world, as it went from zero revenue in mobile devices to two thirds of the entire mobile industry's profits in less than five years, as its iPad and MacBook Air products wiped out the netbook market, as it topped consumer satisfaction surveys for ten years in a row... aaahhh, what's the use? No matter how spectacularly it succeeds, everybody knows Apple is doomed.

Likewise, we get the headline "Foxconn's revenue down on slowing iPad, iPhone sales", even though buried in the article is the admission that "Cupertino didn't sell as many iPhones and iPads as investors were hoping for... despite the fact that overall sales had increased by double digits from the previous year's quarter." Let's parse that again: far from slowing, iPhone and iPad sales INCREASED SUBSTANTIALLY. But greedy investors had been hoping for even more... ergo Apple is doomed.

What is it about Apple that makes tech writers lose any semblance of common sense?

iPads in education: Not actually evil, but pretty close

Andy Baird


This writer (and many of the commenters) makes the underlying assumption that if a computing device--whether desktop PC, laptop or tablet--is used in the classroom, then it must be used to teach computer programming. The iPad can't be programmed, these people assert, so it has no place in a school. (Never mind that there are several ways to write iPad apps on an iPad, and even more ways to use an iPad to code in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other useful languages.)

In short, the only legitimate educational use for a computer-based device is to teach computer programming, according to these folks. Most of the complaints asserted here derive from that logic, which is pretty silly when you think about it for more than half a second.

A tablet is a tool for presenting educational content. So is a book, but nobody's advocating banning those from classrooms. Nobody whinges about that fact that you can't rewrite a book's contents using only the book... but put a microprocessor into a book, and suddenly "presenting content" is somehow not good enough to justify its existence.

A few here have suggested that ereaders would be more cost-effective than tablets in a classroom setting. That argument sounds reasonable, and in some cases it may even be valid. But a tablet is hugely more versatile than an E-ink-based reader. It offers color, it can show video, it can access the web, and there's a world of educational software available for it. None of these are true for ereaders. (Yes, I know you can load a web page on a Kindle. Ever tried it? I have. The experience ranks with listening to music-on-hold with a mobile phone.)

The writer does raise some legitimate drawbacks of tablets: cost, risk of theft, and vulnerability to breakage. A sturdy "kid-proof" case can reduce the latter, but the relatively high cost and risk of theft remain. Those could be legitimate reasons to choose not to deploy tablets in classrooms, especially in the lower grades.

But let's weigh the benefits and drawbacks realistically... not with a bogus "can it be used to teach programming" criterion. I know this hurts IT professionals to hear, but learning to program a computer is not an essential life skill. iPads can be very effective tools for teaching the skills that are essential, such as reading, writing and 'rithmetic.

Just bought an Apple product? Need support NOW? Drop an F-BOMB

Andy Baird

It pays to be nice

The tactic described here may or may not work. But I'd like to offer a counterexample. Some years back, I was having trouble with my 2007-vintage 24" iMac. First the Pioneer-built optical drive went wonky. Then a year later the Samsung-built screen developed odd shadows (probably a backlighting issue). Apple fixed these problems under my AppleCare extended warranty. But when the replacement screen began to show the same problem, I called them up again.

Now, I worked in tech support for many years, so I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of a support call. So when I need to make that call myself, I go out of my way to be calm, patient, and cheerful. I describe the problem succinctly, and when the support person asks me to go through a diagnostic sequence, I follow directions--I don't snap "I already tried that, dammit!" even if it's true. And as I run through the sequence, I give a running description of exactly what I'm seeing on the screen, so the support person can stay oriented.

Here's my point. After running through some basic tests, the support guy I was talking to said, "You know, I don't usually do this, but... you've had several problems with this machine. And I see from your file that you've been unusually helpful and cooperative in previous calls. I think we owe you a new iMac." I ended up getting a brand new 27" 2010 iMac--a major step up from my old 24" 2007 model--for free.

The moral is that if you're particularly nasty or particularly nice on a support call, Apple is likely to note that in their record of your call... and being nice can pay off big-time. Just something to think about before you start cussing out the voice-menu system.

Lytro light field camera

Andy Baird

Requires Flash to view images?

Dead on arrival.

The iPad 3 would make me so horny...

Andy Baird

Blame your tools. not your ipad

"I do a lot of production work on tablet-based magazines and books. The problem is that vast quantities of iPad content is rasterised and paged."

Yup, that's the problem all right: your production method sucks. Sending magazines in the form of giant, dumb bitmaps was a stupid strategy from the start--your text is fuzzy, it isn't selectable, page turns are sluggish, and worst of all, the downloads are humongous. Who wants to download a half gigabyte issue of every magazine they subscribe to, every month?

But you took the easy, lazy way out, figuring that you could get away with selling your subscribers a series of big screenshots of text, that somehow they wouldn't notice. Well, you were wrong, and now the suckiness of your production method (all hail Adobe!) has become blatantly obvious. Your reaction? "Boo hoo, it's all Apple's fault!" Yeah, right. Get a life, mister.

Official: The smartphones that suck much more than others

Andy Baird

Headline FAIL

So let me get this straight--a product makes it so easy to access the internet that owners actually put it to use... and in Leach's opinion that means the product "sucks" and deserves to be "shamed"? Sounds like AT&T's whining circa 2008: "Of course our network is bogged down--we never expected that iPhone owners would actually *use* the internet features we advertised!" Uh huh.

Amazon ups Kindle Fire production...

Andy Baird


"many Fire purchasers will be buying into the Amazon brand not Android, so the notion that Fire's Android won't be quite the same as, say, Samsung's Android isn't going to hinder sales."

Agreed, if you're talking about sales of the Kindle Fire tablet. But Apple has a point: the already fragmented Android market is about to become even more so. Remember, the Fire uses an OS forked from Android 2.2 ("Froyo"). Buyers won't care, because there's little or nothing about the Fire's user experience that hints at Android--it's an Amazon tablet all the way. But for developers, this makes things even more complicated than they are.

Amazon's promotional muscle and willingness to sell hardware below cost make it likely that the Fire will become the most popular 7" tablet. Where does this leave developers? Which version of Android will they target? Google would like it to be Android 3.x ("Honeycomb") and 4.x ("Ice Cream Sandwich")... but developers will flock to the best-selling hardware, since that's where they stand a chance of making some money. If the most popular hardware is Kindle Fire running a heavily customized version of Android 2.2, Google's development roadmap may become more or less irrelevant--it'll be Amazon calling the shots, by virtue of its dominant installed base.

Admittedly this is speculation, at least for now. But clearly the introduction of a tablet running a de-Googleized version of Android 2.2 with Amazon's massive sales potential behind it is not good news for competing Android tablet makers, or for Google.

iPhone 5 a no-show at Apple's 'Let's talk iPhone' event

Andy Baird

Siri on iPhone 4

"I expect that Siri could easily run on an iPhone 4, but damned if they'll let that happen."

It runs on an iPhone 4 right now. An earlier version of Siri has been available in the App Store for well over a year. I have it on my iPhone 4, and it works fine. I just gave it the same task Tim Cook used in his demo today, saying "Find me a Greek restaurant near here." It came up with a dozen, listing them in order of closeness, then mapped their locations and offered to call any one of them for me.

Siri is currently missing from the App Store, and when I launched my older copy today, it said "I've been replaced! The new Siri is even smarter and better looking than me, and waiting for you on the iPhone 4S. I'll be leaving for home Oct. 15th." I don't know what that last sentence means--this version will stop working? The new version will appear in the App Store? We'll have to wait and see.

Granted, it's *possible* that Apple will forbid the new Siri from running on older phones, but I'd be surprised if they did, since the old version has been doing just that for more than a year. In case it wasn't obvious, Siri's intelligence is all at the server end, not on your phone. Like Dragon Dictation for iOS, the Siri app just records your voice and passes it on; all the heavy lifting is done elsewhere. That means Siri doesn't need a lot of horsepower in the phone.

Seven lessons from the HP Touchpad fire sale

Andy Baird

Price point FAIL

"Anonymous Coward" nailed it: Jon Collins's price point argument conveniently overlooks the fact that HP lost a minimum of $100 on every TouchPad they blew out last week (based on the device's estimated $200-$250 BOM).

Meanwhile, tablet makers such as Samsung and Motorola who want to make a profit are finding it extremely difficult to match Apple's iPad pricing without adopting quality-cutting strategies such as cheap resistive touchscreens, smaller displays, reduced amounts of RAM and flashRAM storage, and so on. Apple's huge purchases of LCDs, flashRAM and other components have made them more than price-competitive, as has been reported here at The Reg and elsewhere. (And the same situation is developing in the so-called "Ultrabook" field, as manufacturers despair of matching Apple's MacBook Air pricing--also reported here in recent weeks.)

In short, arguing that because Touchpads flew off the shelves when sold at a huge loss, Apple's pricing is too high is like saying that if BMW sedans sold for $999, they'd overwhelm the market. It's pointless, because you can't build a BMW to sell for that price and make a profit, just as at present you can't build an iPad-quality tablet to sell for $99 and make a profit.

Hungry boffins turn 3D printer into snack maker

Andy Baird


Looks like the work of the well-kbown CandyFab 4000/6000 series 3D sugar printers:


And see CandyFab wiki here:


Canada? The computer vendor says no

Andy Baird

Having trouble with the logic here

So let me get this straight, Trevor: you say you'd rather pay $2,000 for an Android tablet with 6-hour battery life and a USB connector than $500 for an iPad with 10-hour battery life, and an AC charger and USB charging cable included.

Seems like a pretty steep price for maintaining your membership in the Apple Haters Club. ;-)

Motorola uncloaks 10.1-inch Xoom fondleslab

Andy Baird

So is that pronounced "exhume"?

... as in "dig up a corpse"? Should be a big hit with the fast-growing zombie market.

Europe's broadband bird goes up tonight

Andy Baird

It ain't the satellite

"Satellite broadband still suffers from a second or two of latency, long enough for the signal to get to geostationary orbit and back."

Let's do the math. A satellite in Clarke orbit is 36,000 km up, so the ground-to-space-to-ground distance is 72,000 km. Radio waves travel 300,000 km per second. That gives a 240 millisecond delay due to transit time. Yet you're right about there being one to two seconds of latency in a satellite broadband connection. I see it in the HughesNet connection I'm using now.

Bottom line: the problem is NOT the transmission time to and from the satellite. It's not an inevitable result of the laws of physics, as most people assume. The great majority of the delay is happening earthside, probably in the network operations center. It's an annoyance that the network operators could improve... if they cared to make the effort.

Blu-ray barely better than DVD

Andy Baird

Depends on the source

A friend and recently I did a small comparison (one TV, two movies) and noted something that I haven't seen discussed here: modern computer-animated films REALLY benefit from Blu-Ray. Movies shot on film stock, not so much.

The movies we viewed were "House of Flying Daggers" and "Kung Fu Panda." When viewed from six feet away on a 40" screen, "House of Flying Daggers" showed very little difference between the DVD and Blu-Ray versions. My friend and I concluded that the grain of the film stock pretty much negated the enhanced resolution of the Blu-Ray disc.

"Kung Fu Panda" was a different story: the Blu-Ray version was dramatically better. I believe that's because computer-generated movies *have no grain*, so Blu-Ray transfers take maximum advantage of the subtle background details that are lost in DVD transfers. But live-action films start out degraded by film grain, so high-res Blu-Ray versions tend to show more grain, rather than more meaningful image detail.

Bottom line: at least from our little test, it appears that high-def TVs and Blu-Ray discs may be of more benefit to animation buffs than to lovers of live-action films.

Apple’s iPad lead will face pressure from Google and Nokia

Andy Baird

NOOKcolor description

"Like its mono cousin, the device does have... a smaller second screen for navigation."

Say what?? I looked at the product page on B&N's website, and I certainly don't see any secondary screen in the photos or description.

Apple to buy Sony? Good one!

Andy Baird

Maybe parts of Sony, though

I agree with the major point here: Sony as a consumer electronics company has nothing Apple wants. It's a once-great giant that is now stumbling badly--a liability rather than an asset.

However, as a media company, Sony might have some allure. I'm thinking that it would do Apple no harm to own Sony Pictures, for example. That would give Apple access to a huge library of Columbia/Tristar films. Likewise, Sony has some assets in the music business that might be worthwhile.

Would Sony sell off these divisions? Who knows? I'm just suggesting that while it would make no sense for Apple to buy Sony as a whole, Jobs might see value in Sony's media assets, if they became available at the right price.

iPhones, MacBooks sicken Chinese women

Andy Baird

iPhones or fakes?

According to ABC's report, "they had been exposed to n-hexane while gluing and polishing logos on Apple laptops and iPhones."

What nobody seems to have picked up on is that iPhones have never had glued-on logos. The logo is molded or etched in. In other words, these phones were fakes.

That doesn't make life any easier for the affected workers, but it does make all the folks who took this as an opportunity to have a hearty sneer at Apple look rather dim.

Is US prudishness ruining the internet?

Andy Baird

Apple is not the internet

I agree with most of the writer's comments about Anglo-Saxon prudery and corporate "nannying" of web-based social networks, but I'm puzzled by her bringing up Apple's banning of iBoobs. That's an iPhone app, not a website. Say what you will about Apple's management of its App Store--and I personally think it's been too restrictive in many cases--the App Store is a private Apple sales venue, not the internet. Apple has neither the power nor the will to censor the internet, so this case doesn't really fit the article's stated theme, "IS US PRUDISHNESS RUINING THE INTERNET?"

Video calling impresses Brits, if it's Apple video calling

Andy Baird

So let's see...

... many years ago, the writer of this piece was unable to successfully market a clunky version of video calling. And in a brilliant leap of illogic, he deduces that therefore Apple will fail now with its "one click and you're on" FaceTime implementation. After all, if *he* couldn't do it then, why should Apple succeed now? Sure, makes perfect sense.

Apple reels as Steve Jobs Flashturbates

Andy Baird

Get your facts straight!

"During the three years that Flash has been blocked from the iPhone..."

Whoa, there! Let's look at the record.

When the iPhone was introduced, Adobe didn't have a workable version of Flash to run on it. Apple couldn't have put Flash on the iPhone if it had wanted to.

When the iPhone 3G was introduced a year later, Adobe still didn't have a version of Flash for mobile devices.

When the iPhone 3GS came out a year after that, Adobe *still* didn't have a version of Flash for mobile devices.

Now, three years and four iPhones later, Adobe *still* has no shipping "Flash Mobile" product. They have a buggy beta version which, according to those who've tested it and/or seen it demoed, dramatically shortens battery life, crashes a lot, and doesn't work at all with many Flash-based websites.

So before you rewrite history and blame Evil Apple, bear in mind that it's ADOBE that has yet to deliver a usable version of Flash for mobiles.

Microsoft bares Steve Jobs' Flash rant claptrap

Andy Baird


"Steve Jobs' credibility took another hit"? Perhaps, but I'd say Microsoft's credibility took an even bigger one. More than a decade after Cocoa's introduction, they still haven't gotten their act together. But then, given that Microsoft has lost half its value in that decade, perhaps that's not surprising.

Mini Desktop PCs

Andy Baird

Mislabeled lead illustration

Your illo labels the Viewsonic's height as a diminutive 135mm... but the photo that accompanies the review makes it clear that the product is 190mm high by 135mm deep.

Apple details iPad's 'breakthrough' mobile contract

Andy Baird

Syncing is easy, but standalone use...?

"the iPad is a computer add-on not a stand-alone device."

And that's a significant drawback, given the huge potential market of people who don't have a computer (viz., that survey on broadband connections reported last month).

Yes, there's been a lot of ignorant criticism here, so it's worth repeating: an iPad will be fully backed up every time you plug it into your Mac or PC, just as iPods Touch and iPhones are now. If you get a new or refurbed iPad, plugging it in will automatically restore all your data. The only action required of the user is to push a USB plug into a socket.

However, bluest.one is quite right in pointing out that this requires you to have a computer in addition to your iPad--either that, or a subscription to MobileMe.

Look at Kindle for a contrast: no computer is ever needed, and all your books are backed up on Amazon's servers. I'd be willing to bet that many Kindles have been sold to people who wanted an ereader but didn't want to have to connect it to a computer.

If Apple wants to address the new markets that the iPad can open up, the company needs to make the iPad and its cousins fully independent of computers, so they can sell them to people who don't want the hassle of a computer in the first place.

Patchy Windows patching leaves users insecure

Andy Baird

Secunia makes me insecure

Am I the only one who sees this idea as opening a huge security hole? If Secunia got its way and all apps used its patching mechanism, then black-hat hackers would have one-stop shopping: instead of having to crack hundreds of apps, all they'd have to do is crack Secunia's patcher, and they'd have access to EVERYTHING!

Secunia's "one patcher for everyone" scheme sounds like a monumentally dumb idea to me.

Amazon Kindle DX

Andy Baird

Dead on arrival

That's the phrase that best describes the $489 Kindle DX. A nice piece of kit it was, until last Wednesday's announcement of the $499 iPad. Let's see... on the one hand we have a device with a glacially slow b&w display and no applications--the original one-trick pony--while on the other hand we have a device with brilliant color display, eminently suitable for games and video, with a blazing-fast processor that runs 140,000 useful and entertaining applications, including a fairly robust business suite (iWork Mobile)... at the same price. The result is a foregone conclusion: even with price cuts (and you can bet they're coming), it's hard to see the DX surviving for long.

The standard small-screen Kindle has a better chance, if Amazon can get the price down quickly enough. At $99, even a one-trick pony would be marketable; Apple is unlikely to enter that market segment anytime soon. And I'm betting that we'll see low-end ebook readers at the $99 price point by next Christmas--if not from Amazon, then from the dozens of others now jumping on the bandwagon.

NASA's Spirit rover stuck for good

Andy Baird

Improving by degrees

Note to typesetter: the HTML entity ° makes a standard "degree" symbol. It's a lot more elegant (not to mention browser-compatible) than superscripting the letter O.

Masses marvel at 'Most Useless Machine'

Andy Baird

Wisdom of the ancients

"if you think, there isnt any actual invention that can turn itself completely off ready to be powered on without an external intervention."

Of course there is. The original novelty "black box" toy of the 1950s, upon which this less interesting knockoff is based, contained a mechanism powered by an electric motor. Power to the motor was gated through the top-mounted switch. When the switch was turned on, the motor ran for several seconds while the box rocked and jerked mysteriously (thanks to a cam-actuated lever on the underside); then the hand came out of the lid, flipped the switch, and retracted as the motor shut off. At that point the cycle could be repeated ad lib.

Point is, while the black box was off, it was truly and completely off--it wasn't drawing any current until the switch was thrown by the user. I believe that meets your definition, "Paris."

As for Ben's statement that "I believe I am right in saying this machine was actually always 'on', with an electromagnet holding the spring-loaded piston..." well, Ben guessed wrong. At least, none of the boxes of this type that I saw in the 50s and 60s worked that way. Think about it: if they had, they would have drained their batteries very quickly supplying current to Ben's imagined solenoid. It may be hard to believe, but even fifty years ago, engineers were smart enough not to do that. ;-)

Interead Cool-er

Andy Baird


The reference to "UK OLED display maker Plastic Logic" caught my eye. Everything I've seen to date, including Plastic Logic's demo videos, shows their products to be based on E-ink displays. Did I miss something?

Secret US spontaneous human combustion beam tested

Andy Baird

Real Genius

Kurt5 nailed it: the 1985 film "Real Genius" portrayed exactly this weapons system, right down to causing "a single person to inexplicably be incinerated - all completely silently and tracelessly"... nearly twenty five years ago. So now we know where the US military got the idea: from Hollywood. Why am I not surprised?

"Real Genius" is a helluva funny movie, by the way--highly recommended. :-)

Blimp radar makes first flight

Andy Baird

Old system, old news

This appears similar or identical to the TARS (Tethered Aerostat Radar System) that has been in use along the southern US border since 1981, primarily for drug traffic interdiction:


To answer the question about weather, TARS uptime averages about 65%--two days out of three. Winds are a problem, obviously.

Although there's an FAA-declared "no-fly" zone around each aerostat, clearly marked on the charts, there have been a couple of incidents over the years of idiots in light aircraft (Cessnas and what have you) flying into the cables. No balloons were lost--those are STRONG cables!--but the aircraft and occupants didn't survive.

Andy Baird

Researcher: Twitter attack targeted anti-Russian blogger

Andy Baird

What's in a name

For what it's worth, "Cyxymu" is a pretty close approximation to the Cyrillic characters that spell "Sukhuti"--a name that turns up fairly often in that part of the world. It's a reasonable guess that that's the perpetrator's real name.

Sony widens its e-bookshelf

Andy Baird

Good, but but good enough

I'm not sure why Bill Ray is quoting specs for the old PRS-700 model here. Sony's new Readers are the PRS-300 and PRS-600.

For Peter Barcroft, who has been wanting a PRS-700--you can stop feeling bad. :-) The PRS-700's screen stinks compared to the PRS-505's. In order to implement their front-lighting scheme, Sony added a thick overlay layer that reduces sharpness and contrast. Reviewers have pretty much unanimously condemned the 700's display. I'm sticking with my 505... though I'll admit to doing more and more reading on my iPod touch.

For those who asked "Why?"--try "ten times the battery life." That's what I'm seeing in side-by-side comparisons between my Sony PRS-505 and my 2G iPod touch. I recharge the iPod every night; I recharge the Sony Reader about every two weeks.

It's nice that Sony is bring out slightly less expensive models, although in my opinion $99 is the magic price point to aim for. But no wireless connectivity? Come on! This is 2009, when even shoes have Wi-Fi. ;-) I love my PRS-505 Reader, but as long as Sony continues to play feature catch-up with Amazon and Apple, I think their ebook efforts are doomed in the long run.

If I were Sony, I'd be looking to license the Kindle format from Amazon. Then I'd build slim, elegant, keyboard-less devices--similar to the ones Sony's pushing now, but Kindle-compatible--filling a niche that Amazon evidently isn't interested in: people who *just want an electronic book,* not a combination ebook reader/video game/MP3 player/calculator/phone/movie viewer/etc. I think there's room for products in that niche, but only if they work with Amazon. Sony's do-it-yourself bookstore can't compete.

Andy Baird

Ofcom exempts wall-piercing tech

Andy Baird

About that damp squid

All squid are damp, if not downright wet. They seem to prefer it that way. Did you perhaps mean "damp squib," as in "firecracker that won't go off because it's wet"?

iPhone v Pre - the celebrity smartphone deathmatch

Andy Baird


A point that seems to be widely misunderstood is that all of APPLE'S iPhone apps are multitasking when they need to be. It's only THIRD-PARTY apps that can't (at least for now) run in the background on an iPhone.

Of course, the Pre *has* no third-party apps. So what it boils down to is that "as supplied*, both devices are fully multitasking.

Thus to be fair, you should have declared a tie in this category, while noting that *future* third-party Pre apps, if and when they arrive, may be able to multitask. (It's generally regarded as likely that future third-party iPhone apps will also be allowed this ability.)

Andy Baird

US airforce looking at winged-rocket booster 'X-plane'

Andy Baird

Sounds just like...

...the USAF's X-20 Dynasoar project (cancelled in 1963).

Apple explores auto iPhone audio

Andy Baird

Prior art, indeed!

Back in the mid-Sixties, "Popular Electronics" magazine published a construction article detailing how to homebrew a system that controlled the volume of a car radio based on ambient noise level. And I wouldn't be surprised if the idea goes back to the Forties or Fifties. Apple is a bit late to the table with this one. ;-)

2008's top three compact cameras

Andy Baird

Viewfinder differences

It's worth noting that only one of these cameras--Canon's Ixus 80 IS--has an optical viewfinder. The Nikon and Panasonic models, good cameras though they are, rely entirely on the LCD screen for composing pictures. That's a growing trend, for the understandable reason that it's cheaper to leave out the optical viewfinder. But it can be a problem if 1) you take pictures in bright sunlight, and 2) if you're over 40 or farsighted. That's why I chose the Canon, even though the others take just as good pictures. (Yes, there's noise with any camera this small... but that's what Noise Ninja is for.)

Print-on-demand crusader tags Amazon with anti-trust suit

Andy Baird

Hurrah for Booklocker!

It's about time somebody stood up to Amazon on this issue--their attempt to strong-arm publishers into using Amazon's captive print service are outrageous. And I'm not surprised it was Booklocker. They're one of the few POD services that seems more interested in supporting their authors than in filling their own pockets. I've dealt with Angela Hoy before, and she's a straight shooter who tells it like it is. I hope Amazon backs down... before they are shot down by the courts.

New Mexico bets future on promiscuous supercomputer

Andy Baird

Power problems solved

"Oh yeah, it needs about $2m a year to power and cool the supercomputer beast a year as well."

Well, shucks, I can tell 'em how to work around that: build the supercomputer in a New Mexico State Park. You see, if you buy a NM Annual Camping Pass (a bargain at $180/yr. for residents), you can stay in any of the state's lovely parks for $4 a night, with - here's the key - unmetered electricity at no extra cost.

OK, it's a maximum of 50 amps per campsite, but that could be worked around with a few extension cords. The big brain's operating costs could be reduced from millions to a paltry $1,640 a year. And whilst crunching numbers, supercomputer staffers would get to enjoy the view of scenic wonders such as Elephant Butte, City of Rocks, Bottomless Lakes... it can't miss!

Andy Baird, writing from Oliver Lee (the guy who shot Frenchy) Memorial State Park, New Mexico


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