* Posts by Simon Ball

185 publicly visible posts • joined 5 Apr 2007


No cellphones in cells, you slag! UK.gov moots prison mobe zap law

Simon Ball

Re: Solution

That would be extremely expensive. A modern prison of decent size represents the better part of a £100M of expenditure. Many British prisons, new and old, are located near major population centres. Moving them all to areas without cellphone coverage would cost billions. Not to mention that in a country as densely populated as the UK, there aren't that many areas without coverage that aren't national parks.

Virgin's SpaceShipTwo crashes in Mojave Desert during test flight

Simon Ball

"In May, the design of the rocket was changed and successful test burns of a new thermoplastic polyamide fuel were completed"

Test BURNS? Would it be extremely cynical of me to ask just how many UNMANNED test FLIGHTS of this new propellant formulation were conducted before this horrible accident?

Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST

Simon Ball

Re: Depressing

Ah, my bad. Thanks for the information. Although does it not illustrate roughly the same point? It's not that the NK33 was particularly unreliable as an individual unit, just that they were used in a configuration where the failure of one, or a small number, had a grossly disproportionate impact on the rocket as whole.

Simon Ball

Re: Depressing

Forgive me for my ignorance, but it was always my understanding that the problems of the N1 were not caused by the NK33 as an individual engine, but the rediculously elaborate and subject-to-complex-vibrational-modes plumbing necessitated by trying to use THIRTY of them in a single stage?

Tesla, Nissan, BMW mull all-for-plug, plug-for-all electrocar charger plan

Simon Ball

Re: Battery Cars.

In fact, is it even possible to find a car that doesn't have an electric motor in it? Other than toys and go-karts?

Samsung issues 'deep apology' to cancer-hit semiconductor workers

Simon Ball

Re: Wouldn't it be better...

In this day and age, you could argue that if you are a major multinational corporation, it would be better to "do the decent thing", even if you are blameless, given the scandal that inevitably results if there is even the hint of a cover-up. You have to weigh up the cost of the settlement versus the bad publicity.

Having said that, a couple of hundred "rare cancers" (whatever that means) in a workforce measured in what... tens of thousands at most? Is likely not a statistical anomaly.

NORKS cyber mayhem cost South Korea £500m

Simon Ball

Pull the other one.....

100% of a small number is still a small number. The economy of North Korea is an embarrassment to the term "basket case". A post-apocalyptic barter economy would probably be more efficient. NK does not have the technology to produce modern IT gear itself, and the foreign currency necessary to purchase such gear from the rest of the world is restricted to what it can acquire through theft and drug dealing. I very much doubt that their offensive cyber-warfare capabilities are anything to write home about.

NK simply has fewer compunctions about using what capabilities it does have, since, lacking any civil (or even military) IT infrastructure, it is essentially immune to retaliation in kind.

How Google lost the trust of Europe’s data protection authorities

Simon Ball

Re: Tea Parties

A legitimate argument, but one which is much easier to apply when dealing with categorical imperatives - something you either do or do not - than questions of degree, which are inevitable subjective and arbitrary.

What exactly constitutes a "moral" level of taxation? What precise percentage of my income do I need to hand over to the state before I am acting morally? What tax breaks is it acceptable for me to take advantage of? How obscure does a loophole need to be before it ceases to be legitimate?

Tax is too complex and too intimately tied up with subjective political ideas about the size and role of the state for it to be reasonable to expect people to be guided by their conscience. That is why we have law. If the government doesn't like the outcome of current tax law, then it should change it.

Library ebooks must SELF-DESTRUCT if scribes want dosh - review

Simon Ball

Re: Nice for the publishers, what about the authors?

What's wrong with repeated borrowing? As long as you charge a fee each time the book is "renewed", who cares how long someone "borrows" it for? It's no skin off your nose if the borrower ultimately ends up paying more in rental fees than he/she would have done to just buy the ebook in the first place. Similarly, what's wrong with borrowing hundreds of ebooks? As long as the borrower is paying a fee for each book, for each loan period, it's equally no problem of yours if he/she is borrowing more books than he/she could possibly read.

Hobbyist builds working assault rifle using 3D printer

Simon Ball

Re: For those w/o time in the military:

The fact that the bolt (or the barrel) can't be made out of plastic doesn't mean that it can't be fabricated by someone skilled in metalwork. I suspect that the reason the lower reciever is serialised is because it is the one piece of the weapon that is of sufficiently complex shape to be very difficult to make in a backyard metal shop.

Things will really start getting interesting the day someone perfects a matter compiler......

Viviane Reding says imitate US and form FEDERAL EUROPE

Simon Ball

Re: 'Far too many religious nutjobs' indeed

The reason that, historically speaking, “shit don’t work that way” is because for most of the last two thousand years, the levers of power have been in the hands of a theocratic/aristocratic elite who had every incentive to maintain a status quo which kept them on top. The sensibilities of the common man (or woman – you do realise that if legitimising homosexuality is “Utopian Social Engineering” then so is equal rights) had little to no influence on the shaping of the law until at most two hundred years – hell universal adult suffrage is less than 50 years old in the UK. It is not in the least bit surprising that things would start to change rapidly once government actually became accountable to the majority, rather than a tiny minority.

British Gas signs Voda so meters can snitch direct

Simon Ball

@ Blake. St Clair

Not true. Day generation will include gas-fired peaking plant (and what little grid-connected solar we have), whereas night will mainly consistent of the nuclear and coal base-load stations.

I don't know precisely where that would leave the average carbon production per KWh, but it does vary.

Brits take iTablet moniker for 12in iPad rival

Simon Ball

Two questions....

1) Does it have a capacitive touch screen?


2) Does it have a UI shell that is optimised for a capacative touch screen?

If the answer to these questions is no, then how is it any better than any of the other windows-based tablets that have failed to achieve any significant success over the last ten years?

Windows is never going to take off on tablets until MS accepts that the UI is fundamentally ill-suited for use with touch screens of any flavour.

'Plutonium pinch' nips NASA

Simon Ball


Essentially, yes. Pu-238 only makes up a few percent of the plutonium output of a normal reactor - too little to make extraction practical. And military reactors are more interested in Pu-239 (Pu-238 is too stable to sustain a chain reaction). Therefore, the only way to produce it is through neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237(itself an expensive-to-extract reactor byproduct). After the US fell out of love with nuclear power, the demand for radioisotopic generators dropped so precipitously that it wasn't worth producing the stuff any more. That and the fact that the US hasn't actually been in the business of reprocessing waste nuclear fuel for some years.

Star Trek to boldly go (again)

Simon Ball

Could be made plausible.

The Star Trek graphic novel prequel establishes that Nero's ship was augmented with Borg technology that the Romulans had been tinkering with (which is why it look absolutely nothing like any other Romulan starship to date). Freed from Romulan control after the ship was destroyed, any surviving Borg technology might have sent a signal to the Collective.

US magazine to display Harry Potter-style moving images

Simon Ball

@Tony Smith

Wouldn't Minority Report have been a better reference? There were entire video-in-print newspapers, and breakfast cereal boxes with embedded moving images.

Government slashes final Eurofighter order

Simon Ball

@The First Dave

Those two statements are not mutually exclusive. Obsolescence does not occur just because something better at the job comes along, but also because the job itself is deemed unnecessary. In Eurofighter’s case, it’s the latter. Eurofighter may well be superlative at the job it was designed for - dogfighting a conventionally-armed opponent over the skies of Europe – but that job is no longer necessary.

Gamer embezzles virtual cash to settle real debts

Simon Ball
Black Helicopters

@Richard Drysdall

Ebank is a PLAYER-run institution. It isn't run by CCP, and it's losses, however they occur, are not covered by CCP.

If not for the sale of the stolen ISK in the real world, this would be a textbook black-bag job - infiltrate, steal/assassinate and make good your escape. Happens all the time in EVE. Major corporations and even whole alliances have been brought low by similar operations, some of which are immensely impressive in their scope and execution. Intelligence, counter-intelligence and subversion are full-time jobs in the major alliances.

EVE is a very harsh place; abusing the mechanics of the game is forbidden, abusing other player's trust is almost encouraged.

Israeli robo-kamikaze selling like hot exploding cakes

Simon Ball

Didn't we build something like this years ago?

Apart from, presumably, a greater loiter time, this doesn't sound like something that couldn't have been done by adapting ALARM for ground launch.

Adventurer demands -70°C phone for next expedition

Simon Ball

This may be a stupid question but...

Where is he planning to go that has both -70C temperatures, and meaningful GSM coverage? If this were a satphone I could understand, but it doesn't appear to be.

'Alien' lifeform wakened from 120,000 year Arctic slumber

Simon Ball


"Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" was from Aliens (they declined to name it Alien 2).

An extraterrestrial pathogen which had its growth radically accelerated by heat was from Evolution.

The link between nukes and extraterrestrial pathogens was The Andromeda Strain, werein the laboratory where the pathogen was studied was equipped with a thermonuclear failsafe, to sterilise the faciltity (and most of the surrounding area) in the event of a containment breach.

NASA explores 'Curiosity' for nuclear-powered Mars rover

Simon Ball

@Charles Manning

Really? I would have said that the somewhat corny phrasing is EXACTLY what I would expect from a bright 12-year-old girl. As for pink ponies – across the entire country, there are bound to be SOME girls who aren’t obsessed with horses. Just entering the competition implies a much-greater-than-average interest in science.

As for the perchlorate thing, it seems par for the course for NASA probes. Didn’t someone theorise last year that the Viking landers probably fried the local wildlife with their landing rockets before they even GOT to the sampling stage.

DARPA to develop anti-Credit Crunch software

Simon Ball

No. No. No. NO!

Do they never learn?! Unquestioning reliance on overcomplicated mathematical risk-modelling techniques is a large part of what got us into this mess in the first place. It may be portrayed as a way of accurately assesing the stability of financial structures, but in reality, the main motive for the precise quantification of risk is to enable you to cut safety margins to the bone in the search for greater profit - and that is what this will end up getting used for.

Dr Singpurwalla sounds like a "quant " trying to rehabillitate his profession. Pride goeth before a fall, and the fantastically deluded belief that we can quantify and plan for everything goeth before all too many disasters.

I am reminded of an old Asimov story about a young man who builds a fantastically powerful computer in an attempt to create a perfect model of finance and economics, which would enable him to become obscenely rich, based on his belief that all things happen in predictable cycles. It suceeds, initially, but he becomes megalomaniacally overconfident, and attempts to create a perfect model of all human behaviour, with a view to essentially becoming God. Unfortunately, despite it's staggering complexity, his computer simply isn't up to the task of accounting for the unprecedented impact of its own existence, and catastrophically crashes, wiping him out.

Somebody stop this guy before it happens AGAIN.

Apple shareholders get 'say on pay'

Simon Ball
Thumb Down

@Chris C

Actually, it is a rather radical idea by modern standards. The actual power wielded by shareholders, even voting unanimously, is much less than one might think. All real power is wielded by the directors, who can, in most cases, ignore shareholder votes if they conflict with the board's idea of what is best for the business (i.e. what is best for them and their CEO chums).

You can, of course, seek to replace the board, but it can be a long-term and expensive process in cases where the board can only be replaced piecemeal (i.e. one third every year). And let's not even mention companies where the existing board members consent is required to admit any new member (which is legal in certain jurisdictions).

The regulatory environment for banking is not the only problem in the economy at the moment. A fairly thorough overhaul of corporate law is long overdue as well.

BT chief: People don't need fibre to the home

Simon Ball

Dissenting voice

Dot-com bubble fibre-mania anyone? While much of it did eventually get used, many of the firms that laid it lost their shirts. Assuming exponential growth is just as irresponsible as assuming little or no growth.

The history of "build it and they will come" has as many failures as sucesses, so you can understand BT's caution. Will an application with even greater bandwidth requirements than HD-on-demand, AND mass-market appeal come along? Possibly. In a reasonable timescale? No way of knowing.

You certainly can't build a business case for wiring the whole country based on the demands of the small segment of the population who post in this forum.

Flame away.

PS. Of course, this could merely be a negotiating tactic to get the government to spring for the costs.

Doughnut balloon-chute spaceships to reach Mars, Neptune

Simon Ball


VAMPIR? Are you sure you don't mean VASIMIR?

Regardless, when you're talking about large ships, and sensible (in terms of human endurance) flight times, even a plasma-based thruster uses a fair amount of fuel. It depends just how light a feasible ballute can be made.

Simon Ball


Nice thought, but even assuming you could capture the energy, any capture and storage system would be wasted mass on the outgoing flight - a mass far greater than the mass of fuel saved.

Brussels to sue UK over Phorm failures

Simon Ball

@UK bows to EU

Strictly speaking, the answer is yes, we did give up our independence. As long as we remain in the EU, under current treaties, EU law has primacy over national law. Not that we can't withdraw, but that's the nuclear option.

Then again, I might argue that exactly the same thing happened to the US - worse in fact. In theory, the US is supposed to be a voluntary union of sovereign states. In practise, it stopped being that after the Union won the Civil War.

But if you really want to understand the EU, you have to remember that from the perspective of many Europeans, the institution of the individual sovereign nation-state did not emerge from WWII smelling of roses. The first half of the 20th century can be argued to be a direct result of the unbridled exercise of national sovereignty, so you can understand why, after two devastating wars, some Europeans are passionate about not allowing individual nations to do whatever they want ever again.

How the government uses dirty data to legislate morality

Simon Ball

@Crime depends on a perception of a criminal?!?!?!?!?

Firstly, no-one is a criminal until they are prosecuted. Innocent until proven guilty, remember?

Secondly, strictly speaking, the Register is correct. In the case of sex (at least, where both participants are capable adults), strict liability does not exist - the objective action is not, per se, illegal. What makes it the criminal act of rape is the absence of consent. Now, unless the law takes the position that consent can only be deemed to exist if it is given in writing, witnesses and lodged with a third party before the act takes place; there is always going to be uncertainty and disagreement over whether or not consent was given – it is not an objective fact, provable in itself, but a subjective one, informed by those parts of the circumstances that CAN be proven. Therefore, the opinion of the accused on whether or not he/she had consent does matter, albeit subject to the courts determination on whether that opinion was reasonable in the light of the circumstances.

Bacon sarnies cure hangovers: Official

Simon Ball

@Damn Yank

Brown Sauce is the generic term for a variety of malt-vinegar based spiced fruit condiments sold in the UK. Usually it refers to HP (Houses of Parliament) sauce, which has about 70% of this market. The closest US analogue would probably be A1 steak sauce, although HP is much less obviously fruity.

Come on, Sir Tim!

Simon Ball


Babel-17? More like the Nam-Shub of Enki. Babel-17 is supposed to force people to think "logically".

Lights out, Britons told - we're running out of power

Simon Ball


More efficient bulbs may require an increase in the need for space heating, but last time I checked, that was largely provided by gas, which is both cheaper than electricity (per unit of heat), and not facing the same kind of supply gap.

Court rules airline secret security list is stupid

Simon Ball

@Ace McDunk

Forget propelling pencils. How about just an ordinary pencil? Worked for the Joker in the Dark Knight. Or cocktail sticks. And how about sharpening the edge of a laminated piece of paper?

Seagate revs up SATA speed

Simon Ball

@Dale & Jordan

@ Dale - Technically, doubling the areal density will only increase the transfer speed by 41% (ideally), since the density increase will be evenly spread along both the x and y axis - 41% more bits for a given length of track, but also 41% more tracks for a given width of disc - and the head only reads/writes one track at a time.

@ Jordan - Hard drive speeds HAVE increased since EIDE - there are now conventional rotational hard drives that would be ill-served by SATA-I-1.5Gbs. And don't forget SSDs! The Intel X-25E can achieve 250 MBs, which using 8b/10b is 2.5Gbs - that's close enough to the limit of SATA-II-3Gbs to make it justifiable starting work on the next generation.

OCZ Apex 120GB SSD

Simon Ball

Random writes...

Did you do any specific tests with regard to small random writes? The first couple of OCZ drives with the JMicron controller, the Core and Core V2 series, had absolutely horrible stuttering/hanging problems with small writes, leading to (in some cases) a maximum write latency of almost a second, and regular hanging of the OS.

Spaceborne-forces planners meet with orbital joyride firms

Simon Ball
Thumb Up


Suborbital deployment, special suits, strap on jetwings and exotic weapons - is anyone getting shades of that old 80's cartoon series The Centurions?

ESA gives £6m to Brit spaceplane project

Simon Ball
Thumb Up


That wouldn't be the particular type of "livestock" that is illegal throughout the Federation (Excluding Van Maanen's Star, where ALL forms of livestock and practically everything else is illegal - bloody neo-puritanical sect), but very popular in Empire, now would it?

Simon Ball
Thumb Up

Could this be the start of something....

This, IMHO, is one of a handful of genuinely practical and properly-though-out horizontal take-off SSTOs in a field simply littered with overambitious designs and wishful thinking.

Though the government turned them down the last time they went for funding, that was at a time when there were still high technical risks involved. Now that RE have actually built and tested the revolutionary heat exchanger system that is at the heart of the SABRE engine, the whole prospect is much more a matter of engineering development rather than blue-skies research. A major aerospace boondoggle could be just what Europe needs in the current economic climate.

Brit, French nuke subs collide - fail to 'see' each other

Simon Ball


Not technically true. An ELF transmission can be received practically anywhere, though ELF transmitters are horrendously difficult and expensive to build and operate, so they've all been decomissioned (apparently). Equally, VLF transmissions can be received at a depth of 20m or so. SSBNs usually shallow at pre-determined intervals to listen for messages. If you have a survivable communications network, then it isn't a problem - retaliation does not need to be immediate to be a credible deterrent. Even if you don't have a survivable network, you can resort to fail-deadly policies (we suspect an attack is imminent, launch if you don't hear from us at the designated time).

Regardless, in either case, the bandwidth is ridiculously low - only a few characters a minute -

far too low for a real-time stream of tactical data.

Simon Ball


SOSUS doesn't provide data to submarines at sea in realtime. The most you'll get from SOSUS is "probable submarine within a X km of your current position as of time/date". In any case, boomers in particular barely communicate at all during patrol.

Besides, SOSUS is not inherently any more effective than the systems mounted aboard subs/ships. Modern boomers are built to be impossible to detect - even by their makers.

Simon Ball

Co-incidence - I think not.....

Their (claimed) inability to detect each other is explicable, Lewis, but their proximity is not. Given the vast size of the ocean, the odds that two submarines would even be in the same square kilometre at the same time is pretty slim, never mind passing through the same 100m square at the same depth. Either there are environmental/operating factors at work which vastly reduce the realistic range of places that an SSBN might be found at any given moment, or someone is being cute. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if one of the two skippers was playing at being a fast-attack boat, and got in a little too close while trying to track the other one. Personally I suspect that discouraging aggressive tracking exercises is the real reason for this traffic control system.

Prof: Save up fossil fuel reserves to fight the next ice age

Simon Ball


Depends. If we crack fusion or some other large-scale renewable power source, then it isn't an issue. Just suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, crack it into CO, mix with H2 cracked from water, and shove the whole lot through the Fischer-Tropsch process - bingo, as many long-chain hydrocarbons as you want. The process is a net consumer of energy, but if you have an abundant power source, so what?

US lawmaker injects ISP throttle into Obama rescue package

Simon Ball

Can someone please explain to me....

Why the US legislative process permits the inclusion of bits of legislation that have little, if anything, to do with primary (or even secondary) purpose of the bill they are attached to? Does it not show contempt for democracy to get legislation that won't stand on its own merits passed, merely by attaching it to something more worthy?

I understand that this practise inhibits the power of the executive to veto individual programmes, but this singular advantage would seem to be massively outweighed by the sheer volume of legislative fluff and pork that it permits.

Iranian rocket puts satellite into orbit

Simon Ball

@ Tom Cooke

I'd also mention Warren Ellis's graphic novel "Ministry of Space", which addressed much the same topic, albeit with a subtle undercurrent of moral and social commentary - what price the dream?

EU funds Antipodes-in-90-mins rocketliner concept

Simon Ball

2075? That's rediculous...

What happened to Reaction Engines antipodean rocketliner Skylon derivative (A2, I think it was called) that was being investigated under LAPCAT? That only had a lead time of about twenty years, and was a hell of a lot better thought out. This is pretty damn amateurish by comparison.

Hybrid fusion-fission reactors to run on nuclear 'sludge'

Simon Ball

Erm, Mike...

Fusion CAN be used for war. And we DO have something tangible - they're called thermonuclear weapons.

Airbus A380 bows out of Air Force One competition

Simon Ball
Thumb Up

About time, really...

While the US certainly has the right to favour their domestic maufacturer (although how much of Boeing's products these days is American-made is certainly debateable), it doesn't have the right to consistently use Airbus as a stick in an (increasing pointless) attempt to beat Boeing's prices down. I certainly wouldn't waste my time and money participating in a complex and expensive bidding process that I haven't a hope in hell of winning.

It seems to me that Airbus are essentially using the most visible USAF procurement programme it's possible to imagine to illustrate exactly what the costs of getting stuck with a monopoly supplier are.

Robot 'Spider-man' casts net to nab burglars

Simon Ball
Thumb Down


Isn't that a paradox? Surely a security robot sufficiently ineffective to be vulnerable to theft while in actual operation wouldn't be worth stealing? Who would buy a security robot that can't even protect itself?

US forces order fuel-cell units for medevac stretchers

Simon Ball
Thumb Down

Is it just me....

Or is 1080 watt-hours rather underwhelming for a fuel cell system that weighs 18 Kg? That's only 60 watt-hours per kilo, which is within the reach of standard nickle-metal-hydride batteries, never mind lithium-ion. And that's just rechargeable batteries. There are a range of lithium chemistry primary batteries already used by the military that can achieve energy densities four or five times higher than this.

ISS drinks dispenser now taking the p*ss

Simon Ball
Thumb Down

This may be a stupid question....

Why are they using an overly complicated centrifuge/boiler in the first place? I was under the impression that reverse osmosis filters were a hell of a lot simpler and more reliable.