* Posts by Faster Better Greener

26 publicly visible posts • joined 22 Jun 2009

Larry Tesler cut and pasted from this mortal coil: That thing you just did? He probably invented it

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Re: The AI Effect

We tried to deliver your second photon, but unfortunately our driver had 100% certainty regarding your address, so we could not make the delivery. We left it with a random inhabitant of another universe. Please do not call customer services as we will not be able to assist you.

Apple hands €14.3bn in back taxes to reluctant Ireland

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Re: Tunnel under the Irish Sea

Why not go the whole hog and tunnel direct to France? A direct Republic – EU mainland link would further marginalise the importance/influence of post-Brexit UK. Literally a bypass.

Downside: at current tunnelling cost rates they'd need about 3x-ish €14.3bn. No wait: those are HS2 cost estimates. Panic over, slice two thirds off the capex estimate and you'll be OK.

Reserve me a seat on the first TGV from Gare du Nord to Heuston. The clue's in the TGV bit: if you do come up a bit short with only €14.3bn to, the French will (as usual) bend EU procurement rules to subsidise the whole scheme to ensure a market for their kit. Best of all possible worlds from a Dublin perspective: bypass the UK and chummy up to the 'flexeurs des reglements' who make EU Grands Projets such great value for money.

BOFH: We want you to know you have our full support

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Call centres and the concept of purgatory

“This item of yours, Sir, can you describe it?” asked Vicky, or more likely Vikki, the call centre ‘adviser’, not bothering to hide her boredom. Minimum wage employees in low-prestige jobs where 90% of recruits leave within a year have a particular way of intoning the word ‘Sir’, which conveys both resentment and the cast-iron assurance that, whatever your question, complaint or suggestion, it (and you) will be:




deleted; and/or

passed to ‘technical support’.

Technical Support is simply the concept of purgatory, updated. Technical Support used to mean Fat Dave from IT. Although always slow, obstructive, incompetent, unwashed, aromatic and covered in crumbs, Fat Dave was at least borderline human. Technical Support has now evolved into a disembodied process, a global machine whose function is to bring slow, obstructive, incompetence to a world-wide customer base.

You may have signed up for ‘services backed by our award-winning technical support’, but they never tell you which. You’re expecting their speed, service and solutions to have been recognised by juries of their peers, but instead they’ve romped home with:

the dead cat behind the fridge prize;

the unexpected dog shit exactly the same colour as the pavement prize;

the month-old Chinese takeaway rediscovered under the sofa on returning from an overseas trip prize; and

the overflowing toilet because the U-bend’s blocked with the fat from ten years’ worth of cooked breakfasts tipped down the drain every day prize.

But don’t let me put you off. There is a remote chance that Technical Support may not, on this occasion, live down to its reputation and might just stumble upon an answer to your question. They might just solve your problem. They might just be able to advise you exactly what you need to do, in order to perform exactly the task you needed to carry out, in order to achieve exactly the result you had in mind. Just how remote is this possibility? Well, perhaps you’ll get lucky, but you’re more likely to see:

irony in the Deep South;

a Belfast Republican wearing a bowler hat, an orange sash, and playing the flute; or

a Taliban delegation at an inter-faith workshop organised by the liberal wing of the Church of England.

But don’t let me put you off. You may elect to hold the line. You may decide that, because you do indeed have a push-button telephone, you might get lucky with ‘one of the following five options’. On reaching the fifth you will, however, realise that none applies to you. No, no, you’re not:

calling about problems setting up a new account;

calling about problems accessing an existing account;

calling about problems making a new booking;

calling about problems canceling or refunding an existing booking; or

calling about problems with terminating an account.

You are, in fact, simply calling because some imbecilic (yet award-winning) system has yet again insisted that there is only one train a day from Birmingham to Manchester and that it goes via Peterborough. So you go for Option Six.

Option Six, let there be no mistake, is Room 101. It is the sum of all fears. It is the dark, gelatinous, evil heart of the global incompetence machine. Option Six is merciless. Option Six is the destroyer of souls. Option Six is relentless. Option Six rips all hope from the human spirit. Option Six knows no pity. Option Six administers only grinding, limitless, frustration. From now. For ever. Until the end of time. Option Six is:

‘Please hold if you would like to speak to an adviser.’

You had a choice. You, yourself, the human being, quite unaided by the internet, really do know there are several trains an hour between Birmingham and Manchester. And you also know, with absolute certainty, that they go nowhere near Peterborough. But you wanted the internet to tell you whether the Family Fun Price-Buster Weekend SupaSaver ticket was cheaper than the Super Special Daysout Megarover. You’d seen the advert somewhere: something about £5 off, or something like it.

So now you’re holding for Technical Support. ‘You are now in a queue for the first available adviser.’ But, don’t you realise, there isn’t one. There will never be an adviser available. No matter how long you hold the line (and you’re just passing £5 in phone bill already) you will never, in all eternity, ever, ever, get to speak with a person who you would consider suitably qualified, precise, accurate, articulate or informed enough to give you advice.

Advice comes from doctors, lawyers and other people with clean fingernails. Inspiration comes from artists, writers, composers. Astonishment comes whenever you contemplate the spectacular achievement of your species:

tool use;






space travel;

the capacity to imagine conditions a billionth of a second after the birth of the universe;

the desire to construct a machine capable of replicating those conditions;

the ability to actually build it; and

the capability to share its results with every sentient human being on the planet.

But you are not in the queue for a sentient being. You are in the Option Six queue for Technical Support. ‘Your call is valuable to us,’ the holding-voice said. Then, over and over again, every 30 seconds, ‘we apologise for the delay in taking your call’.

They do not mean it. They are lying to you. Every minute’s more delay makes the call more valuable to the evil global incompetence machine, You are paying to listen to their lies and endure hold-music which sounds as if it was played against her will by a terminally melancholy employee in an animal research laboratory.

Then finally.

“Hello this is Technical Support, my name is Dave, how can I help you today?”

No. Don’t fall for it. He is not called Dave. He’s Sanjay, Raul or Yvgeny; somebody out there in the fringelands of the global economy. Anywhere in the right timezone, anywhere where it costs less to employ him than it costs to keep a prisoner locked up back here. They are compelled, all of them, to call themselves Dave, so that callers may imagine the appearance and aroma of Fat Dave and take comfort from his crumbs.

You explain the problem. Yvgeny’s grasp of the relative geography of Birmingham, Manchester and Peterborough is, you rightly suspect, incomplete, even when you’ve tried, really tried, to make it local for him. “You see, that would be like trying to go from Moscow to St Petersburg via Kiev.”

“That will be stupid. Why want go not in straight line?”

“Indeed Yvgeny, why want go not in straight line indeed? In my country, we call straight line from Birmingham to Manchester West Coast Main Line.”

“And Piotrsburgh, he is not on West Coast?”

“No, Peterborough is in East.”

“Like Vladivostok, yes?”

“Yes, a bit like Vladivostok, but with less vodka.”

“And where Kiev?”

“Capital city of Ukraine, I think? Why do you ask.”

“Because first you say that your Piotrsburgh he is Kiev, but now you say he is Vladivostok. Which is right?”

“It doesn’t matter, I was just trying to explain that Peterborough is not on a straight line between Birmingham and Manchester.”

“Why it not matter? Kiev is only big detour. Vladivostok is giant detour taking many days and nights on Trans-Siberian railway. Is your Piotrsburgh just big inconvenient or giant waste of time.”

“Oh Peterborough is definitely a giant waste of time.”

“Yes. Now I understand this, I see why you not want go there, but you say website forces you go Piotrsburgh?”

“Yes, and I don’t want to go to Peterborough at all”.

“But you are the one forcing website to send you Piotrsburgh. You ask website for SupaSaver and MegaRover, yes?”

“I just wanted to know about those tickets, yes.”

“Some tickets not valid straight line way. Not technical issue, so I put you back Customer Service.”

Now’s your chance to escape, you could just put the phone down. Cut your losses – which are running at about £27 by now, by the way, given the premium rate line. But you’re too deep into hold-hypnosis.

The melancholy lab technician is back with her mournful drone. Your call is once again valuable. You will again be transferred to the first available adviser. You are in a queue and your call will be answered as soon as possible.

“Hello this is Customer Service, this is Nikki speaking, how can I help you today? Sir.”

Things have come full circle. If you’re honest, the only way Nikki, Vikki , Shazz or Cazzie could help by this stage is by giving you hints on assisted suicide. But you’re too far gone to think that positively. So you just hammer it out all over again.

“You don’t want to go via Peterborough then?”

“No, I don’t. Neither do I want to go via Kiev or Vladivostok.”

“There’s no need to be rude. Sir.”

Despite the razoring sneer of her ‘Sir’, despite your overwhelming, caveman-adrenaline, urge to slaughter and feed to the dogs the Bollinger-swilling Spawn of Satan who own ZoomTrains.com and who are profiting (right here, right now) from your misery, your last ounce of humanity helps you resist smashing the handset through the computer screen. So you just sit there and take it when Nikki tells you that it was your own fault anyway, because SupaSavers and MegaRovers are only valid on indirect routes.

She gives you the prices and times of the direct trains. But you’re too overcome with that seething mix of anger and impotence brought on by call centres. You don’t care anymore. You can’t even remember why you wanted to go to Manchester in the first place. It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters. Nothing.


“Oh yes, thanks for your help.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes. There is. Please just tell me why everything nowadays is so shallow, so hateful, so insincere.”

“That’s not an issue I’m trained to address. Sir. Have nice day.”

And with a click the pain, and £42.37 in call charges, is gone. It’s over. You know nothing more than you did £42.37 ago. You are filled with hate. You wish to kill.

Tesla Powerwall: Not much cheaper and also a bit wimpier than existing batteries

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CORRECTION Powerwall economics in UK conditions: ~ 5 to 6 year payback

Typo, sorry.

Sentence currently reading "Answer: we'd need 21kWh capacity to fully cover the daily peak requirement, so we'd need to buy 3 of the 7kWh units at $7K each, which makes a total of £5,850 in GBP."

SHOULD read "Answer: we'd need 21kWh capacity to fully cover the daily peak requirement, so we'd need to buy 3 of the 7kWh units at $3K each, which makes a total of £5,850 in GBP."

Faster Better Greener

Powerwall economics in UK conditions: ~ 5 to 6 year payback

Thought it might be helpful to do some of the maths on the Powerwall. We live in Northern England (not too hot, coldish in winter) and run a couple of electric cars (a PHEV and a pure EV). So we have relatively high electricity consumption 14,000 kWh per year.

Of the daily average (38.4kWh) we reckon roughly 55% (21.1 kWh) is at peak rate, and 45% (17.3 kWh) is at off peak rate. Our utility charges 12.17p/kWh for peak supply and 6.83p/kWh for off peak juice. Hence our total annual electricity bill is made up of £937.09 peak rate power + £430.29 off peak power, for a total of £1,367.38.

In all the following calc, we're looking at just the battery costs, acknowledging that inverter costs would be additional. We also assume the deal is funded from cash on hand, i.e. not taking into account finance costs (which would be pretty minimal anyway given current interest rates).

The first calc we did was to say "how would Powerwall work out if we wanted simply to use it to arbitrage the (substantial) price differential between peak and off peak utility rates?"

Answer: we'd need 21kWh capacity to fully cover the daily peak requirement, so we'd need to buy 3 of the 7kWh units at $7K each, which makes a total of £5,850 in GBP.

We would then use 21 kWh of OFF PEAK (6.8p/kWh) energy to charge up the batteries overnight, plus 17.26 kWh of OFF PEAK energy to run the normal daily off peak load. Thus we would be purchasing a total of 38.26 kWh OFF PEAK energy per day. The 3x7kWh Powerwall units would have completely eliminated the need to purchase PEAK rate electricity from the utility. The peak rate power bill would be ZERO.

Net effect: the annual electricity bill falls by £409.31 to a total of £958.07, versus the £1,367.38 we started with. Payback for a 3x7 Powerwall system would thus be around 14.3 years, if the sole purpose was to exploit the price differential between Peak and Off Peak utility rates.

If it were possible to use two of the 10kWh units instead of the 3 x 7 kWh config discussed above, the capex for the batteries falls to £4,550 and the payback reduces to 11.67 years. However, it is not yet clear that the 10 kWh unit can be used in this way. The Tesla website describes the 7 kWh Powerwall as suited for "Daily Cycling" (which is what we need in this example) and the 10kWh as suited for "Weekly Cycling". If that's just marketing guff, then there'd be nothing to stop us using two of the bigger units instead of three of the smaller ones. However, if the control system and liquid cooling are optimised for the weekly application, then the 10 kWh unit may not be applicable for the daily charge-discharge cycles we need here.

However, and it's a big however, the economics under the UK Government's renewables incentives regime are MUCH more compelling than simply using the batteries to exploit the peak/off peak price gap.

Let us assume we assume we install a 12kW solar array on a dual axis solar tracker. At our latitude, experience (from the exactly similar unit installed on our neighbour's property) indicates that we'd get a MINIMUM of 15,000 kWH energy production per annum.

Given the batteries' ability to store renewably generated power when the sun is not shining (or the wind is not blowing) a system on this scale would effectively eliminate the need for grid energy purchases: so the utilities bill falls to £0.

And then then the Government renewables generation incentive kicks in on top. This subsidy pays end users 14.45 p/kWh for every unit of electricity generated, regardless of whether it is consumed in the home or exported to the grid. There is an additional smaller subsidy paid per kWh actual exported, but we've sized this system to match the on-site power needs, so very little will actually get exported and we've thus ignored this second subsidy for the purposes of this calculation.

On the calculations above, the Government subsidy – which is guaranteed for 20 years to encourage uptake – totals £2,167 per annum. Add that to the £1,367 saving on the utilities bill, then the total benefit of Solar + Powerwall system is £3,534 per year.

Once again assuming the 3 x 7 kWh Powerwall set-up at £5,850 and a (generous) £15,000 for the solar unit, including installation, inverter and integration of the two subsystems, total capex would be £20,850. Payback on these numbers would be 5.9 years. Payback shortens to 5.53 years if the 2 x 10 kWh Powerwall units are used.

Random car shutdowns force Toyota to recall Prius hybrids - AGAIN

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Re: Toyota Update?

Tesla do OTA updates. It works.

Fanbois, prepare to lose your sh*t as BRUSSELS KILLS IPHONE dock

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Chargers and plugs. EU regs. So that's sorted then.

Oh brilliant, an EU spec for a standard charger. Pardon me if I'm not filled with optimism.

As an EV driver, I see the utter failure of EU plug/charger standardisation efforts on a daily basis. Perfectly good standard developed (Type 2 Mode 3, German leccy tech, so it works). Idiot-proof 7-pin design which cannot be inserted the wrong way up. Data transmission built into the spec alongside the power transmission bit. Intelligent enough to enable the car to tell the charge post what chargerate it can accept, so correct amperage is supplied. In fact it's so good that Tesla have adopted the standard for the Model S in Europe; which has a 7-pin socket on Euro spec cars, as opposed to the 3-pin used in USA.

But the French and the German put a DIFFERENT plug on the car end. The Swedes haven't fully implanted the data bit. And now the Germans have now decided they'll be using the new CCS standard (essentially TWO plugs, splitting the data and power bits).

And because Renault and Nissan can't agree (even though they're the same company) we still get Japanese standard connectors on the Leaf, whilst Renault EVs use Euro kit.

And that's only AC, then there's the whole nonsense with Japan-standard CHAdeMO.


First rigid airship since the Hindenburg cleared for outdoor flight trials

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Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Boothy

Container trains from China to Germany are already running. Serious cash is being invested in upgrading the infrastructure too. DB Schenker is coordinating.

Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid: Eco, economy and diesel power

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Actually own one of these – will publish detailed analysis after 6 months use

I actually took delivery of one of these V60 PHEVs in late-June. In short, massively impressed with it. Am currently collating real world data on the actual performance (e.g. pure-EV range, leccy costs, % of time diesel cuts in, actual mpg in various driving scenarios). Will publish findings as an eBook in January 2014.

For day-to-day use for commutes, it is entirely possible to drive the car as a pure EV. We often go weeks without the diesel coming on at all. If you have a EU-typical journey pattern of a short-to-medium commute a couple of times a day, this car will potentially deliver MPG results in the high hundreds. But the diesel hybrid is useful too when needing to make longer journeys. Do NOT buy this car if your typical journey pattern mostly involves long motorway journeys, it's not optimised for that kind of work.

Overall, taking all journey types into account, we're currently projecting over 100mpg on average over a year; currently obtaining over 165mpg on (mainly) day-to-day commutes with a bit of medium-range leisure driving. On motorway trips, consumption deteriorates to around 55 – 80 mpg, depending on traffic circumstances.

Couple of points to bear in mind. Use public chargepoints to top up battery when out and about. Not only does it extend your EV range, but vast majority of public-subsidised chargepoints still provide entirely FREE electricity to registered users. Fast charger (Type 2 - Mode 3, Menneckes connector) installation at home is currently also 100% subsidised (i.e. zero cost to customer).

Financially, if you're self-employed or accounting the car through a business, 100% of the value of an ultra-low emissions vehicle can currently be offset against taxable profit in Year 1 (100% WDA). That's another very substantial slug of free money from the Govt, in addition to the £5K off the sticker price. And London congestion charge exemption is worth having. And the £0 Road Fund Licence. Add all these incentives together, and you could be getting an effective subsidy of between £15K and £19K from the Govt. Then add the fuel savings (and yes, you will smirk when you keep driving past the petrol station for a whole month...) and the effective whole-life cost of ownership becomes very competitive.

On our domestic tariff, it costs around £1 to £1.15 to fully recharge the battery, from which I can confirm we reliably get between 28 and 32 miles range in a very hilly part of the country. However, given that we usually charge up for free in town when we can, our actual average electricity cost is lower than it would be if we only charged at home.

As for the general car-stuff. Goes like a rocket in 'Power' mode, with instant torque from a standing start from the electric motor . Very comfortable. Exceptionally quiet on good tarmac, even when diesel is working. Boot space is a little compromised by the battery, but not to the extent that we've ever noticed it hampering general practical usability of the car. Load space with 40, 60 or 100% of the seats down is very versatile and usable.

Slick drivetrain mapping allows 'Pure' mode to favour coasting, whereas 'Hybrid' mode will favour greater harvesting of surplus energy through regeneration when freewheeling or going downhill. Both modes regenerate under braking. The transition process between electric and diesel drive is super-smooth: control software is obviously very well refined - even when the transition occurs at high speeds, the turbo is clearly "pre-spun" to the right speed so that there is absolutely no jolt when the engine kicks in. It is often imperceptible.

From personal experience, all in all, a very well engineered package. Happy with it.

Are driverless cars the death knell of the motor biz?

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Smart algorithms to manage a dynamic fleet

So we need to minimise the number of expensive assets (cars in this case), but still have a big enough fleet, so that customers can have one available within a reasonable amount of time. This kind of fleet sizing verus availability optimisation is already pretty well advanced in another sector – executive jet hire. Customer base much smaller; assets much more expensive. Result: huge amount of attention to the algorithms. I believe NetJets is best-on-planet at this kind of thing. Perhaps clone-able to this application?

Robo-warship sub hunter: Free DARPA crowdsauce game

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Targeting Branson Sub

One can safely assume that ridding the oceans (or indeed the planet) of Branson would be met with general rejoicing. I mean, come on, if you are a hitherto unknown trench-dwelling creature of the endless night, who would you least like to be discovered by...

Algorithms will need to include an annoying beard (AB) and grating self-importance but ultimate irrelevance (GSIBUI) detection filter. To avoid needless slaughter of marine researchers, single seater deep exploration subs are ONLY to be attacked IF AB = Branson AND GSIBUI > Clegg

UK Man cops to £500,000 iTunes royalty scam

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£83 royalties per 99p song

A man was today convicted of of defrauding millions of people in a music-related scam. The complex scheme involved a 'Mr Big', who coerced unemployed people with no musical abilities to record cover versions of popular hits and to make videos of their - generally inept - performances.

The plot then involved hosting the videos on a broadcast platform and, through a relentless campaign of terror, forcing millions of members of the public to make premium rate phone calls. Callers to the numbers were given the impression that they were somehow 'choosing' which recording would 'win' a purported 'competition'. At no point did the victims actually receive any goods in return for their money - all rights in the recorded music always remained with the criminal mastermind. If members of the public actually wanted to download the 'music' they had to pay again to obtain the .mp3 file.

Having parted millions of people from their cash, the criminal mastermind would then take his enslaved musical minions on freakshow tours of provincial towns, where further thousands of innocent marks were fleeced, under the impression that they were paying to see a concert. They were in fact handing over their hard earned cash only to be subjected to various forms auditory torture, including practices outlawed under the Geneva Convention.

Pleading "impressively guilty, don't you think" to all charges, Cowell, 51 of Kesington, admitted all the offences. He avoided prison by striking a plea bargain with prosecutors, under which he would be allowed to continue his operations in the UK on condition that he extended his scheme to certain overseas territories. It is believed that this move was backed by a secretive MI6 PsyOps unit, seeking to destabilise foreign powers.

Cameron: Carriers tomorrow, bombers today

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"The Operational Carrier" (singular)

Agree with Mike Richards, the Strategic Defence and Security Review does NOT imply one continuously operating carrier strike capabilities. The relevant text is at Para 2.A.4. (p21) of the SDSR document. It reads: "carrier-strike based around a single new operational carrier with the second planned to be kept at extended readiness."

The maintenance of "continuous UK carrier-strike capability" is only (one of several) "options". To quote (SRSR p23):

"To provide further insurance against unpredictable changes in that strategic environment, our current plan is to hold one of the two new carriers at extended readiness. That leaves open options to rotate them, to ensure a continuous UK carrier-strike capability; or to re-generate more quickly a two-carrier strike capability. Alternatively, we might sell one of the carriers, relying on cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability. The next strategic defence and security review in 2015 will provide an opportunity to review these options as the future strategic environment develops. Retaining this flexibility of choice is at the core of the Government’s adaptable approach."

So. One catapult system, fitted to one operational carrier. The other up for sale to the highest (but presumably not Iranian or Argentinian) bidder - just watch all the other 'options' evaporate when somebody puts the cash on the table.

Where does that leave us. There is one very good point. The deck-melting, can't land without dumping weapons, VSTOL version of the F35 is replaced with the more capable and cheaper cat-launched version.

But that's as far as the good news goes. The problem is no longer the planes, but the lack of a carrier to fly them off for large chunks of the next half century.

The "single operational carrier" will need maintenance and refit for n% of its 50 year life (the design life stated in SDSR). There will therefore be an aggregate total period of several years over the next sixty-or-so when then UK will not have the independent force projection capability that the carrier is supposed to provide (the post-Harrier/pre-F35C decade + all the carrier downtime in the following decades).

And during these periods of impotence what does the 'strategic' review suggest that we do? Basically, 'ask the French really politely if they would mind awfully if we shared their carrier for a while?'

Why not push the logic a bit? If we're renting deck space, why not ask the Brazilians too if we can use their carrier as well. At least that way, we'd be able to keep a very close eye on the Argentinian naval air force, because we'd be on the same ship. Perhaps we could even let their tyres down in the night to stop them taking off. Or hacksaw through their tailhooks so they'd embarrass themselves on landing...

It is only through the contemplation of absurdity that the truth is perceived. And the truth of this sort-of-half-pretend-that-we-still-matter carrier fudge is that it is, at heart, absurd.

Supersonic stealth jumpjet achieves its first mid-air hover

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Catapults, Costs and Carrier Capacity

So RN looks like it'll be the only major customer for a non-standard SVTOL variant of the F35. Read: cost over-run, multiplied.

Cat-launched variant much cheaper, due to much larger USN order bringing down up-front unit costs and whole-life overhead.

Redesigning UK carriers to accommodate cats would, Navy blokes say, involve installation of a steam system the size of a Leander Class frigate's propulsion gear – and that's just for the catapults, the gas turbine system would still handle the carrier's propulsion.

Which means less space to carry aircraft. Which kinda misses the point of an Aircraft Carrier.

So a redesign to nuclear would provide (a la USN) more than adequate power for both propulsion and cat launch, along with all the other benefits of greater operational flexibility. (And that's a big plus).

Using nuclear for electrical drive of maglev catapults, not inefficiently piping steam all over the shop for a WW2-style plane-pinger, would both save both space and increase Aircraft Carrying Capacity (a double plus). USN is already trialling maglev cats at Lakehurst.

And that's in addition to being able to use all that space currently designed for intakes and funnels for increased Aircraft Carrying Capacity (a triple plus).

And the buckling deck problem goes away (a quadruple plus).

And patrol fighters can land with a full warload, without having to ditch unused munitions (a quintuple plus).

"HMS Eric Laithwaite", anybody? A cost-effective, highly efficient and operationally robust maglev-toting British carrier with worldwide capability. Now there's a thought.

Tories ask: Why BBC3, BBC4?

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Scrap BBC1 & dance on its shite grave

Although, come to think of it, 'Dancing on Graves' would make a great primetime format...

BBC3 should be retained for the sole purpose of showing those exciting new sports recently premiered at the Winter Olympics. Four headcases catapulting themselves down a mountain simultaneously on skis or snowboards. But I want to see that done not just on skis, but with axes, swords, pikes and halberds. In a nod to the channel's heritage, the commentary should be done, with suave lounge-lizard intonation, by Brian the talking dog from Family Guy.

BBC4 should be given over in its entirety to Jonathan Meades. Primary school children should be compelled to watch and then given vocabulary tests. Failure to deploy complex multi-syllabic nouns in an effortlessly ironic manner will be punishable by death or, in extreme cases, by transportation for life to Stevenage.

BBC2 would ideally consist solely of wall-to-wall Horizon, revived to the standards of its peak output.

The Commissioning Editor who convinced a publicly-funded institution that wasting an hour of its HD airtime each night for a week on "Lambing Live" must be eviscerated without delay.

All BBC employees who have ever been involved in any Talent or Reality Show, or any Soap, will be publicly disemboweled. The punishments will take place in a regionalised 'road show' format in order to facilitate direct engagement with the widest possible audience. The audience is advised to bring a rusty drill.

Jobs: I'll decide what to do with Apple's $40bn cash pile

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Orbital beyond-taxation megaservers?

Take cloud computing above the clouds? What do massive sheds full of servers generate? Heat, which needs to be dissipated, controlled and managed. So why not spend a couple of billion developing the launch capacity to ferry modular clusters up into geostationary orbit? Infinite free cooling available.

(Yes, also agree with earlier poster that Feds would probably JV into the launch vehicle venture by pre-contracting a given volume/mass of load-lift for a couple of decades to come, enabling NASA spend to be focussed tightly on science. Guesstimate: every Apple $ leverages one Fed $??)

Real reason for going off-planet? Not the cooling - naaah. Major attraction would be all iTunes transactions taking place outside every terrestrial tax jurisdiction.

Calc: iTunes to date. 10 billion transactions at a (rough) average of $1. Tax rate (say, conservatively, 10%). Rate of download and average price of each transaction will increase from current curve to (say) 5bn per year at $2. New calc result = 1bn a year in tax avoided on iTunes transactions alone.

Then the real benefits start to flow. How much of Apple's worldwide total sales (not just iTunes, but entire web sales) could move from mere tax havens to the tax heavens above?

As a purely back of envelope estimate, if the tax bill avoided is of the order of $5bn per annum, then the venture will probably stack up.

And PS, forget rockets. Lean and clean space elevator technology will do the lift. Simply spin a 22,000 mile column of nanofibre. Major solar generator at the top to anchor it. Use the energy to power a maglev crawler to take stuff up the pole. Tech currently all in place, but nobody has brought all the bits together and commercialised it. Now wait - isn't there a company that's very good at taking other people's technology developments and turning them into product....?

Brits to get 3G iPad early - and at a reduced price?

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iPad. Why I shall be shelling out (again)...

Much discussion above about how iPad isn't sufficiently differentiated from smartphone to drive a major transformation in the market. Here's a few reasons why, for me, it WILL be worth getting one. Rather than looking at the issue in the abstract, I looked back at all the activities I have carried out on my iPhone and/or MacBook Pro (MBP) in the last 7 days and identified those which would have been easier to conduct on an iPad.

1) Trading financial options whilst on WiFi in Caffe Nero, using MBP, using BT OpenZone free WiFi minutes bundled with my BT landline contract. Definite win for iPad. Screen big enough to do the job. Free third party WiFi usable. 5lbs less weight to lug about.

2) Trading financial options whilst on WiFi in Starbucks, using iPhone, using O2 unlimited free WiFi minutes bundled with my £20/month iPhone contract, via BT OpenZone. Definite win for iPad, but for slightly different reasons, primarily because iPhone screen too small for the job. Free third party WiFi usable. Means lugging about the iPad in addition to the iPhone, but REALLY worth it to be able to see a number of financial positions simultaneously, particularly when prices are changing fast in volatile markets.

3) Watching Hollywood movie on long train journey on iPhone. Obvious win for iPad. Not just because of larger screen real estate and vastly better viewing angle, but Apple's cover accessory will make it easy to stand the device up on the train table to get a good viewing position without having to constantly hold the device.

4) Playing Real Racing on iPhone whilst bored in the back row of a conference hall. Small form factor of iPhone enables discreet distraction from some twazzock's interminable crap PPT, but larger iPad screen will enable the inclusion of more controls and functions, notably a permanently-visible rear view mirror: dead handy when deciding the best moment to slam the brakes on to cause havoc behind. iPad will not be as easy to hide...

5) Delivering 4 presentations using Keynote and Numbers, editing them whilst travelling to venue. This is the key one for me. 100% delighted that Apple will be marketing what appears to be a thoroughly reworked iWorks Suite at launch of iPad. Some of the functions look like they might even be EASIER to use on the multi-touch UI than in the (already excellent) Mac implementation. This means I will be able to make edits on the iPad as I tweak shows to specific audiences.

So, it appears that I will be able to ditch the MBP for EVERY session where I am presenting to small groups (3 or 4 people) and just use the iPad. Huge weight saving and convenience here.

But, for larger groups I will need to hook up to a projector in the normal manner. From Apple website this appears to work via the 30-pin connector in the back of the device itself, or alternatively in the back of the dock. Some questions will need to be answered there before it becomes clear whether the iPad can replace the MBP in this situation. Namely:

a) Can the iPad charge and output video at the same time? Or can the one connector ONLY be used for ONE of these functions at once?

b) Apple's tech specs show a good range of image and media types handled (Flash isn't an issue for me) but the video connections could be limiting. Lack of any DVI/HDMI may be a real hinderance.

APPLE SPEC FOR VIDEO OUTPUT Support for 1024 x 768 with Dock Connector to VGA adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Component A/V Cable, 576i and 480i with Apple Composite Cable.

It would probably be impossible to use Component or Composite cables with 99% of conference room projectors anyway, so it looks like it's a step back to 1024x768. Subsidiary question: will the the iPad automatically scale and/and letterbox and/or aspect adjust Keynote presentation that have been made on the Mac version of iWorks at larger resolutions (eg 1920 x 1080)?


This has a huge upside for Apple, namely that the vast bulk of video formatted for Apple TV (and that's over 8000 movie and TV titles) will run on the iPad with no transcoding in a quality that will really demo the iPad screen to its full effect. However, for me in presentation terms this could be a problem. I use a lot of Full HD 1080p video (using H.264 codecs) embedded in my Keynote shows.

Summary: for 95% of day-to-day Keynote and Numbers work, iPad will work fine. The 5% of really high-end stuff may need some video transcoding. Not a showstopper for me: spending a few hours whilst files render through Q-Master will be worth it when I walk my monthly usual several miles walking through airports and rail stations with ONE bag (iPad in cabin-baggage-sized overnight case) instead of TWO (overnight AND laptop cases).

6) Word Processing on the go. Pages looks good. In common with all customers for current generation iMacs, I already have a WiFi keyboard lying around, so will be able to use that when at desk. On screen keyboard looks pretty nifty. Proof will be in the using. Anticipate iPad document creation/reading abilities will be perfectly sufficient for on-the-road. Will still use desktop Mac with large screen for major document creation.

7) Duplication of iPhone costs/3G in iPad issues? Like many UK iPhone owners, mine's just emerged from its original O2 contract. The phone is fully depreciated in the accounts. O2's current retention deal (£20 month with unlimited data and no lock-in) is very keenly priced and only slightly more than one would pay for a bog standard RubbishFone. So iPad is an additional cost at acquisition, but network access costs will be nil. I will not get 3G on the iPad, will continue to use iPhone for email when not in WiFi coverage. If there's any email which comes in whilst WiFi is inaccessible (say a complicated .doc attachment that requires editing) I would pick this up first on the iPhone to review and for initial response. Would then pick up on iPad at next WiFi opportunity for editing. Or will it be possible to transfer files from iPhone to iPad using Bluetooth?

All-in-all, iPad looks like a buy for me. Projector connectivity could be a hassle. But additional screen size and optimised iWork apps look very strong. Will keep iPhone. Remains to be seen if MBP becomes entirely superfluous.

I strongly suspect that better video-out will be a feature in iPad 2.0, but not having to lug MBP to many events is already a strong enough rationale for me to get v 1.0 in full knowledge that compromises are being made.

IMHO, pricing of iPad looks like a game-changer.

Apple: iPhone App and iTunes stores don't make money

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Jobs Halo

Apple COO implies MULTIPLE product launches.


More than one analyst asked both Oppenheimer and Cook whether Apple's projections for the next quarter's revenue took into account the launch of the long-rumored iPad, but both execs dodged all such questions. To one questioner, Cook replied: "I wouldn't want to take away your joy and surprise on Wednesday when you see our latest creations."


I note particularly the very last word "creations". It is plural.

This would imply MORE THAN ONE product launches at today's Apple event. Or it could imply multiple content product streams to be announced to provide all the edu-newso-video-textotainment which all those customers for the shiny new tablet are going to require. Or it could just be a little slip of the tongue.

From an investing and trading perspective, Plural is IMHO better than Singular. It implies multiple revenue streams, spreading of risk and further profitable leverage of the existing 'ecosystem' which pipelines cash direct from 100 million consumers' credit cards to Cupertino.

Thinking of how it could play out on stage, all the best Apple events in the past have featured at least a short section of "here's some of our old stuff we've updated" (eg an annual update of iLife or iWorks, a midlife revamp one of the iPod, Portable or Desktop product lines). These little 'appetisers' serve to set up Steve Jobs famous "one more thing" moments, when he pulls the big news product from his pocket to hysterical acclaim.

From a purely trading perspective today, one would expect a generally Bullish stance to hold until at least the moment SJ produces the tablet. There could then be an outbreak of 'selling on the news'. The key question, of course, is when will traders hit the button to make that switch. Or will the event + product + content combo be so powerful that a sell-off does not happen.

The answer is "we shall see".

FWOW, if there were to be a second physical product announced today, I would bet that an Apple-branded HD TV with 'built-in-everything' would be positively received by Wall Street as a supporting act to the Tablet.

High-speed Chinese train kicks French, Japanese butt

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Chinese tech transfer re trains

The Chinese high speed rail programme is doing JVs with all the major European train manufacturers to 'localise' the technology. The Japanese are also in there too. So no surprise if you get to see something that looks like a Shinkansen N700 or a Siemens Velaro. Because that's what they are.

Until next year, when they'll be rebadged and sold back to us for half the price. Ho-hum.

PS China already has the world's fastest train in regular public service - 431 km/h (267mph) maglev in Shanghai. This too used German technology (Transrapid - Siemens & ThyssenKrupp).

O2 takes a Christmas break

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Jobs Halo

iPhone data. Vodafone also to cap bandwidth

So O2 data network craps out again. Plus ça change. But I wouldn't be so sure that Vodafone are going to profit terribly much from disgruntled O2 users. I note from their email launching their price plans yesterday that they (like Orange) will be capping data usage (excluding WiFi data) at 1GB on most plans.

Sounds like a pretty surefire way to ungruntle data-junkie iPhone users pretty quickly.

AT&T to choke your iPhone

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Telco compete for iPhone with data bundles

It will be interesting to see in a year's time how the newly-opened UK iPhone market shakes down, now that Apple has ended O2 exclusivity.

First new entrant (Orange) has opted for a capped data plan (750MB/month, I think, but happy to be corrected).

Vodafone hasn't announced its plans yet, but could have a few tricks up its sleeve, including bundling its 3G femtocell to iPhone users in poor/zero reception areas. Would have to work out how NOT to charge users twice for using it though (current Voda femtocell price plans count any data going down the CUSTOMER'S broadband connection against the allowances on their VODAFONE price plan). Considering the customer is paying for the BB connection and paying £160 for the femtocell, this sucks.

Incumbent operator (O2) has overtly stated that it is going to retain "unlimited" iPhone data bundles in its pay monthly packages.

Initial though is that this looks like a marketing win-win for O2. A slice of the market defects to other providers. This frees up some bandwidth on O2's overloaded network (for a while anyway, until the inevitable expansion in demand fills whatever space is created). But when they start getting hit with over-the-cap data charges on other operators they come running, begging to be allowed back.

A key issue in the UK is that "free" bandwidth (as bundled on O2) has encouraged iPhone users to engage in some truly bandwidth-hungry behaviour - watching BBC iPlayer in bed between midnight and 01:00, for instance.

And Apple comes up smelling of roses here. They just provide the kit that makes it POSSIBLE for customers to indulge themselves in these network-unfriendly ways. And its the network providers who end up alienating customers when they fall over.

Oh, and erm, Apple compels the networks to PAY for the privilege of being inevitably overwhelmed by the data demands of content-hungry iPhone users, who will in turn inevitably become disillusioned with the network operators.

Net result:

Apple. Top 15 company by market capitalisation, with a cash pile of around $30bn (and counting), also taking a 30% slice of all revenues on Apps, for which 100% of the development costs are borne by third parties.

Network Ops. Less said the better.

Weather balloons no longer a crazy idea for rural coverage

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IT Angle

Reusable kit in retrieval cost shock...

So, let us think a moment. The operator pays $100 to retrieve a unit worth $1,500, huh?

That unit is trackable, given the very nature of the task it performs: transmitting data.

it then gently parachutes back to earth in an area of the USA where the local population are almost universally equipped with (a) SUVs capable of going off road and (b) legally-held offensive weaponry.

Bloke in Space Data uniform turns up to collect kit. Finds heavily armed local in monster truck already holding said equipment in one hand and a heavy calibre machine gun in the other.

Price required to retrieve operator's $1,500 kit from SUV-man can now be confidently predicted to be somewhere north of $1,500, not $100.

Business plan kaputt.

Windows 7 - the Reg reader verdict

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A Mac users perspective on W7

It strikes me that this is an awfully long thread about installing a bit of software on some computers. There's so much mild relief that W7 nearly, sort of, kind of, works I'd guess that many of you have had bad experiences with some previous bit of software and were almost not expecting it to work at all. Or am I missing something?

As a Mac user, I was under the impression that OS updates involve simply taking a DVD out of a tastefully designed (recyclable) box every year or so, watching some nice pictures of deep space for a few minutes and then being rewarded with another issue of the world's slinkiest means of operating a computer.

Ah, and yes, that OS does seamlessly blend with the world's best OS for operating ultra-portable devices.

Erm, and yes, there is never any question of hardware/OS mismatch, because the same company produces and controls both to a ruthlessly high QA standard.

Ahem, and that slinky OS leads equally seamlessly into the world's best eco-system for retailing digital content direct to consumers. Songs for a a few cents/pence a pop; videos for a few quid/dollars; Apps; in-App sell-through.

From all of which Apple takes a slice.

Which is why Apple had the best quarter in its history.

Which is why Apple has more than doubled in value in the last year.

Have I tested W7? No. Will I ever do so. No. So am I qualified to judge it? Yes, in the sense that there are increasing millions like me for whom MSFT's latest OS is a matter of the profoundest irrelevance. For us an OS is merely a slick window onto an increasingly converged digital content field. And it is we, non-users, who are superbly qualified to make THE key judgement on W7. The judgement of non-use, of couldn't give a stuff, of irrelevance.

W7 doesn't matter to me.

W7 doesn't matter to my company.

W7 is a total irrelevance to both my personal and commercial digital existence.

I do not care whether W7 is better than its miserable predecessors, as I never have cause to use any of them. Because I don't need to, don't want to, and don't, ever, intend to.

Worryingly for MSFT, this "judgement of irrelevance" is now shared by a significant slice of the IT-using world. A fast-growing slice.

If there's a historical precedent here, it's US railroads in the 1950s: lovely trains; but about to be rendered totally obsolete by aviation. IMHO by 2025, MSFT will go the same way as the Sante Fe and Baltimore & Ohio and all the rest of them. The premium market will evaporate, and they'll be left with just hauling freight around the crumbling infrastructure of yesteryear.

I'm off down the Apple Store to buy a magic mouse. Just for the £55 fun of it. Oh, and to pay for it I'll only have to cash-in 0.4278 of an AAPL share.

And happy toiling to you all.

Most Mac owners getting Windows on the side

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Uses for old Windows PCs

So OK, what uses are Mac users likely to find for old bits of PC gear?

1) taking out the innards and using the case as a rubbish bin;

2) door stops or book ends (but only on the shelf containing the Works of Satan);

3) occasional use of Powerpoint, just to remind themselves how many lights years better Keynote is;

4) teaching Offensive Aesthetics 101 (Hardware) courses;

5) teaching Offensive Aesthetics PhDs (Insulting OS Design and Software Disjointedness);

6) just plain and simple wondering what all those buttons on a mouse are for;

7) a totem to ward off evil spirits;

8) target practice;

9) performing unchallenging computing tasks (eg doorbell management, fridge temperature monitoring, streaming Classic FM) whilst doing the real work on an iPhone that's squintillions times more satisfying to use (although even the diehards will have to admit that an App promising "Plan & execute a manned mission to Mars" for 59p is, how shall we say, likely to have one or two functional limitations...); but the most likely of all is

10) rather like some increasingly gaga and incontinent old aunt or dog, everybody's still circling self-consciously around, trying to avoid taking the hard decisions such as 'she/it will have to go into a home/be put out its misery'. In the case of dog or aunt, you'll have to steel yourself when the time comes, in case a pleading look or a particularly pathetic drool should challenge your resolve to go through with it. However, with Windows, it's much, much easier: just let it play you to the 'Help' noise one final time, and you'll have it under the streamroller in a jiffy.

PayPal moves to embed self in everything

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No one thinks anymore...

I note the comment cited in the story: "For thirty years, the killer application for electricity was lights, but now, electricity powers everything, and you don't even think about what's behind that power outlet".

Duh. Just what sources generate the electricity that comes out of the outlet is perhaps the single most important global issue now. And will be for several decades to come. Get the answer wrong and we all fry and die.

Get the answer right, though, and we could unleash a second wave Industrial Revolution, powered by increasingly clean energy. The effects will be just as profound as the first time round.

Then, railways both served as the arteries to make new forms of production and distribution possible and themselves catalysed the demand for iron and steel which made the step-change in basic production an economic necessity. In the second wave it will be production and gridding up of clean power on a world scale which plays the role of 1st Gen rail.

Glad to see the debate about this issue resting on such a well-informed historical and philosophical basis.

Steve Jobs had liver transplant

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Tennessee donor availability

Noting that body parts are available 6.375 times faster in TN than US average, does anybody know (a) whether there are a disproportionately large number of motorcyclists in TN and/or (b) that State's policy on the death penalty and its current Death Row throughput rate?