* Posts by _wtf_

33 publicly visible posts • joined 14 Jul 2009

Brit space agency to probe 'crackpot' antigravity device


What we really need

Uusally when antigravity devices come up for discussion, the objection is on the grounds of conservation of energy. The classic example is H. G. Wells' Cavorite, which, if it existed, would enable you to get an infinite supply of energy. Covorite was a substance which shielded against gravity...so you could cover a mass, let it float up, uncover and let it fall, getting free energy, and repeating the cycle indefinitely. While this would be nice, it would definitely not be conserving energy, and since this principle is well established, it would appear to be very unlikley that a substance like Cavorite could actually exist.

That does not necessarily preclude the existance of something that would fit the description of antigravity, yet would also comply with the principle of conservation of energy. So what would be the characteristics of such a device? Well, experience tells us we will not get something for nothing, so it is probably going to cost us some energy to keep the device running. So while it is running, we would expect such a device to somehow overcome the local gravitational attraction, so that instead of falling it remains where it is as long as it is working. Now, staying in one place is not all that useful, so we would also like to be able to have the device raise itself, and lower itself, under control. When it raises itself it will have gained gravitational potential energy, so we must expect to have to put in an equivalent amount of energy, plus a bit more since few things are 100% efficient. Conversely when it lowers itself energy will become available, and we may even with luck be able to recover some of it.

So far we have just described a helicopter, an aeroplane, or even a lift for that matter. So the next thing is that our hypothetical antigravity machine must be able to accomplish all of this without a physical connection to the ground (or any other fixed object), without using reaction mass, and without requiring an atmosphere around it. you cdan accomplish things a bit like this with a good strong magnetic or electrostatic field, but what we would really like is to be able to do this a long way from any other fixed object, so that for instance we could start off on the ground, rise straight up into the air, and reach earth orbit. The actual orbit would also require us to accelerate sideways of course, but we would naturally be happy to feed in the energy needed to do this.

The interesting thing is that if you work out the energy to do this, for say a useful size of space capsule, it is not all that high. If the actual cost of the energy were the only barrier to space flight, we would already have commerce around the solar system. Sadly, we don't know how to make such an antigravity device, and I see no particular reason to beleive that the device referred to in the article represents any sort of step towards this. Ity would be nice, but just because some sort of device would be nice does not mean that it is actually possible to build one.

Upminster top for tupping on UK bonkmap


Rule 34 applies

Faith, such a thing is made, although I don't know if it is actually Bluetooth or not. But certainly with a wireless remote control. However I gather such items do not always stay in place very well.

NZ town cans rabbit-chucking contest


hey futureboy

Thankfully we don't have cane toads in New Zealand. You are thinking of Australia, a desert island full of unpleasant poisonous creatures which is about as far from NZ as Newfoundland is from Ireland. We do have rather too many rabbits, and also possums, both species having been unwisely introduced for fur and "sporting" reasons.

Rigid sky-train to fly through magnetic rings on sticks



The Brunel style vacuum railway actually worked quite well. That is of course until as mentioned above the rats started eating the leather seals. The effect of frost on the seals was also a problem. But until these problems manifested themselves, the system looked very promising. It gave the sort of advantages an electric system has. Clean, smooth performance, none of the problems associated with trying to make an early steam power plant portable. OK, it didn't work out, but you can't blame them for wanting to try. Brunel himself had so many successes that we can forgive him the odd mistake. Some of his bridges are still in use.

Magpies hold funerals for fallen feathered friends


Not a magpie at all

That's a Norwegian blue, that is. Lovely plumage

GPLv2 - copyright code or contract?


re right to use

Regarding the discussion between peter2 and AJ Stiles...In some legislations, for example the US, there is a right to use. This is not part of "fair use" which is a defense against uses that might otherwise be an infringment, eg quoting from a book. The relevant part of the US statute allows copying which is required in order to use the software with a computer, eg the necessary copies of all or part of the software into the hard drive and ram. So given that you have a legal copy of the software, you are allowed to use it with a computer. This is consistent with the fact that given a CD or a DVD, you are allowed to play them. Remember that most players for CDs and DVD do contain buffers, so do copy at least part of the contents into memory while playing. A result of this is that you do not need a license to run software which has been legally obtained, at least on a (singular) machine, although this seems to be widely misunderstood by both copyright owners and users. Note that the GPL itself says that you do not need a license to use the software, or that if you do then you have one.

I would argue in any legislation that if there is no right to use then no sale has taken place, eg you have received nothing of value. It follows that it should not be necessary to agree to any further license (eg an EULA) in order to use the code. This does not affect the GPL, which is only involved if you wish to do things that would not otherwise be legal under copyright law, eg copy and distribute.

To the Anon at 12:06 GMT, quite right, and you would be even more hosed if the 1% of the code came from someone like Microsoft. It is really very simple, if you want to use someones code, you must conform to their license conditions. If you don't like the conditions, don't use the code.

Large Hadron boffin hit with terrorism charges


NZ Herald

I am amused that the NZ Herald is cited above as an authority for events transpiring on almost the exact opposite side of the globe.

Not that they are necessarily worse than any other paper, but they are a long way from the action on this one. Perhaps we could consult the Herald if we want to know what John Key is up to.

Moon orbiter detects pole-plunge hotspots in dark bottom



Stevie, there are four quite plain little blue dots on each of the lower images. Take a closer look.

Of course, if you want to beleive in a conspiracy, you could argue that they added those in afterwards. Once you beleive they are faking things anything is possible.

Alien because you know they walk among us, the truth is out there, etc, etc...

US to export riot-roasting raygun

Thumb Down


I too would be concerned about the cataract potential of this device. Isn't there a Geneva convention restriction on weapons intended to blind? Of course, it is OK if the blinding is merely a side effect, and I suppose since the intended use of this device is on civilians, the Geneva convention probably does not apply.

The rule of thumb that I recall is that the holes in the mesh should be less than 10% of the wavelength. Mesh with large holes does no good at all. Still, you can see quite well through a fine mesh if it is close to your eyes.

US court says software is owned, not licensed



I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that where Psystars little scheme falls down is that they are creating and distributing a derived work. They don't just onsell the box with the Apple software in it, they install it on a machine, and have dicked around with it to make it work. Now, I suspect that an individual can do that without Apple having much comeback, it is like writing extra bits in your copy of a novel. But when you start distributing such a modified work, you are breaching the copyright of the owner of the work.

Super 'sun-hot' plasma rocket in fullbore bench test triumph


What you fail to understand is???

I thonk you are overestimating the difficulty of navigating in space. You can align your spacecraft with great precision using the stars as a reference. The current and future positions of the destination are known with great precision. You can observe your trajectory and correct as needed. All this was done on the lunar missions with sixties technology. There was even some fairly "seat of the pants" navigation done on Apollo 13 when things were turning to custard. They had a problem with the craft drifting, due to non thrusting vents creating some thrust, and had to correct for that from the lunar module, which was not normally intended to do mid course corrections.

Apart from using thrusters to adjust atitude, you can use an inertia wheel, which gives a more precise control.

For the other problem of how do you stop, there are two choices, depending on the mission. Aerobraking is fine if you intend to land, the landing venue has some sort of atmosphere, and if the velocity reached is not too high. It means you can potentially accelerate for the whole trip, which would be faster. Otherwise you do the mid flight turn, which can be done without turning the engine off, especially with low thrust engines like these. So you accelerate for half the trip and decelerate for the other half.

Bridge made of recycled plastic supports 70-ton tank


What is a structure?

I think you are both wrong... a sword is certainly a load bearing structure, in the ultimately pedantic mechanics sense. But really, when someone talks about structural steel, they are going to be meaning the modern use of rolled I beams and such to build welded or riveted structures.

Texas Instruments aims lawyers at calculator hackers


Lexmark Decision

This sort of thing highlights why the DMCA is evil and iniquitous. The keys are needed if you want to load your own software that you have written to your own calculator that you have paid for. There is no legitimate reason why a company should be able to prevent you doing that.

The Lexmark decision should apply here, it was found to be OK to reverse engineer the printer cartridges. The trouble is the hobbyists and students involved probably can't afford to tackle a big company head on.

US to deploy 'optionally manned' hover-dirigible in 2011



I think that Glen will find that hydrogen mixed with carbon dioxide will still burn when mixed with air. Sure, if the mixture was mostly CO2 then it won't burn but then it won't lift either.

Consider that the air that the Hindenburg burned in was mostly nitrogen, another inert gas. Didn't seem to help much, did it? Of course it would have burnt much better if the atmosphere was pure oxygen, but as is it burnt quite adequately.

Women spending more time at work - but less time working


re Aaron Em

You mean I should be using my tongue on my scroll wheel?

CSI boffins: You can't ID crims from bitemarks on victims


Bite me

Eat my shorts.

All right, I'll go quietly

News anchor tells weatherman to 'keep f**king that chicken'

Paris Hilton

I wonder?

If his original intent was to do with the beleif that the weather forecasters read chicken entrails to get the foerecast, in the same way as apparently the Romans tried to predict the future. Which would mean he meant to say plucking. But you know how it goes: How many pheasants would the pheasant plucker pluck if the pheasant plucker could pluck pheasants.

I've seen this before somewhere in popular culture, and certainly when I met a weather forecaster and asked him where they get the chicken entrails he knew what the joke was. (probably also had to suppress a desire to strangle me with my own entrails too....)

Paris because she is allegedly a pheasant plucker too.

eBay fights for right to sell luxury stuff in EU



Really? You have a politician named Honeyball? How does anyone keep a straight face?

Heidemarie 'Toolbag' Piper resigns as NASA astronaut


Seems to me a planning fail

Pretty obvious that when you are in space you can't rely on things staying where you put them. The science fiction writers knew about this problem, long before spaceflight. I can remember reading about spacemen needing magnetic boots and tethers back before Yuri Gagarin. Of course that was based on the faulty supposition that the spacecraft would be built from steel, can't see the magnetic boots being very successful on aluminium, but the idea was there at least.

Plus we also know now that working in zero g is actually quite demanding both mentally and physically, and we know from aviation experience that it pays to reduce the demands made on people working in difficult situations. So why would you not have some means of making sure that the tools and the toolbag cannot easily be lost?

Speking of old stories, I remember one where the rocket crashed on the moon, in the process breaking the valves in the radio set. (obviously a very old story!) No communication with earth to tell of their plight, until one of the guys figured out that they could get it working by evacuating all the air from the spacecraft, thereby providing the valves with the needed vacuum again. Quite ingenious, although I have to wonder how intact the grid structures would be after the glass has been shattered around them.

Man remanded for extreme porn offences

Paris Hilton

Possession laws

I have misgivings about all possession laws, whether for photos, data, or chemicals. That is not to say that possession of some of these items should never ever be an offence, but they do have a risk in that no proof seems to be required as to how the offending item came into your possession. So this makes it really easy for some malicious person to stitch you up. All they have to do is get access to either your premises, your computer, or even your jacket, and they can put something into your possession that can have you in real trouble. Just how do you prove that the litle bag of white powder hidden in your lounge was put there by some unknown third party, or for that matter by the police officer doing the search?

I can see the point in discouraging people from possessing and circulating pictures of child abuse, if only on the grounds of reducing the market for the stuff and hence the temptation for people to create more. OTOH I would also be inclined to classify napalming children as a form of abuse, which would make a very famous prize winning photograph from the Vietnam war illegal. So it is not that easy.

On the trafficking side of things, you don't have to watch very much of the legal stuff (legal where I am anyway, pretty much similar to what would be legal in the USA, with participants over 18 and names etc on record) to see that some of the participants, both women and men, are enjoying what they are doing, and some are not. OK, that is pretty subjective, and I suppose it is possible that some are really hating it and are just very good actors. I personally can quite enjoy seeing an attractive couple having a lot of fun together as a preliminary to doing likewise with my wife, and we very much prefer movies where the participants are in fact having fun. I concede that this would be harder to tell with animals, but then that stuff doesn't interest me anyway, and I find it hard to beleive that the animal has given informed consent. Shouldn't the animal be over 18 too?

Jacket icon...with someone dropping something illegal into my pocket

NZ woman sacked for SHOUTY EMAILS


few clarifications

OK, a few clarifications....New Zealand is not what the septics call an "at will" country, and the employers do love to advertise jobs as either casual, contract, or permanent, so the employers do end up with some obligations about notice and having good reason to terminate the relationship. For casual jobs this is of course minimal, a contract will normally have the duration built in, and a permanent role would logically be indefinite in its duration, barring misconduct etc. This is reasonable in view of the different powers inherent in the relationship, eg it is generally hardly one of equals. However, there is not that much bias in favour of the individual, quite the opposite if anything. For instance, had this employer chose to he could have simply made the position redundant. That does not mean that the particular work is not to be done any more, it just means that the work is being distributed differently across roles in the organisation. Meanwhile the employee gets four weeks notice and a redundancy payout. The latter would depend on the length of service, but would not be likely to exceed a quarter of what they had to pay in this particular case. Otherwise, they can give you warnings and then dismiss you if behaviour does not improve, or for serious matters like theft can dismiss you on the spot...but for both those cases they need to have their ducks in a row to cover possible challenges.

I do find the "shouting" convention interesting, because from a readability point of view all caps is more like mumbling...it is harder to follow and more likely to be ignored. This is despite being old enough to have received the odd telegram and telex message, which of course were always all caps due to the absence of anything else much. But in any case, I don't see anything about this particular example which is so egregious as to justify dismissal. Reading between the lines it would appear that there is probably fault on both sides. She may well have been a bit annoying to other staff, but unless the boss can show that he has tried to deal with this properly that is not going to cut much ice with the court.

Kettle car breaks speed record


A bit underwhelming

Speking as a steam hobbyist myself, the guys I know who are into steam cars think this project was a bit of a botchup. At this point in time it should be possible to build a steam car that would acheive something of the order of 300 to 400 mph. Mind you it would still be a pretty pointless exercise. We know the capabilities of steam plant pretty well by now, it is excllent for large scale plants like power stations and ships, but not so useful for mobile applications. Note that efficiency is not a problem in large plants, a big steam plant is more efficient than a Diesel engine, and the most efficient heat engines are combined cycle setups that use a steam cycle for part of the process. So there is life in the old technology yet...actually there is more installed steam horsepower now than there has ever been before.

Those who have put the time and effort in, for example lear back in the seventies, have found that you can build a steam power plant that is comparable for power to weight with an internal combustion engine. The downside is that the volume of the plant tends to be quite high...the actual engine unit can be much smaller than an IC engine but the heat exchanger is bigger...and the fuel economy tends to be not as good. Against the latter, it is not so fussy about the nature of the fuel. But the real killer is that a compact high power steam plant suitable for a road vehicle is not simple, it is a complex expensive peice of plant. People think a steam engine is simple, well, a Mamod one is, but one with any chance at all of being usable on the road is very complex.

Incidently there is little difference in the expansion of steam and other gases, at the sort of temperatures involved in steam or IC engines. Steam turbine plant often runs with temperatures around the dull red heat mark. This is harder to manage with reciprocating plant but has been done in steam hydroplanes. The world record for Model steam hydroplanes is around 120mph http://www.onthewire.co.uk/hhistory.htm

Remember this is for a model size device, on water, and with the drag of the tethering wire slowing it down. If any model rocketry guys ever find their hobby is getting a bit tame they could give this a try! So if that can be done by lone amateurs with their own resources, they should be able to do much better with the car and the money that has been spent on it.

Government unbans dirty vids but bans 'legal highs'


Glad to be in the USA???

John, your individual states used to have sovereignty too once. But you are somewhat further down the process of the Federal government doing a power grab and taking control of issues that should be handled at the state level. They have already taken over education, looks like they are now taking over health care. It is a pity because I think a properly run federal system has great possibilities for large nations with diverse populations, however the tendency seems to be for power to gravitate into central hands. So Europe is only following down a path that the USA has already trodden.

GSM connectivity now enjoyed by 4 billion


Why Three?

Probably the idea is to maintain manufacturing expertise in a range of technologies rather than being limited to one. There is no advantage in this for the customers, who do better if the competing networks all use the same phone, so that you can swap easily from one to another. This is one reason why mobile technology is more advanced in Europe than in America...in the US the competing networks use different technology, making it hard to swap. In Europe swapping is usually as easy as buying a new SIM for another network. So there is a limit to how bad the service can get, eg no worse than the competitor.

Nuke-nobbler raygun 747 scores 'surrogate' test success


Toujours la meme chose

Every time laser weapons are discussed some genius thinks of the reflective coating idea. Are we to assume that nobody in these programs has thought of this obvious downfall? I don't have any direct knowledge of these devices myself, but what I have heard is that any reflective coating is not likely to make the slightest difference. At these sorts of energy levels you must regard the beam as having much the same effects as a hammer blow of the same sort of energy.

As to why the devices own mirrors survive, I gather that persuading them to do so is not the least difficulty in building such a system. One thing that helps is that the beam is not actually focused to a minimum size point, the energy is spread over the area of the mirror, so the density is not as high, and of course the mirror designer knows exactly what wavelength is coming too.

Of course corner reflectors on the missile would have a wonderful effect on its aerodynamics too.

Stephen Hawking both British and not dead


Stephen Hawking both???

I didn't know there were two of him!!!

Court filings are protected by copyright, says lawyer


Come, let us reason together....

The lawyer has been hired by the client to do the work. That would make it a work for hire, so the client would own any copyright at that point. However, the client wants it presented to the court as part of a case. I suppose there might be an argument in the case of a lawyer working "pro bono", except that the relationship is the same, he is just working for free in the public interest. I help at a museum as a volunteer, and interestingly the relationship in terms of rights and duties is much the same as employment, apart from the lack of pay.

As part of a case, the brief becomes part of the public record of the case. As such, it may be made available by the court to anyone who requests it, for research or for republication. If you do not wish your work to become part of the public domain in this way, do not submit it to the court. Once Lexisnexis or anyone else has aggregated a whole bunch of stuff they can sell copies, but anyone else should be able to do the same. Only the contribution they make in terms of arrangement and annotation belongs to them.

At least, as I see it, that is how it should work. Note that this implies that anyone else who wishes to should be able to request copies of cases and republish them to their hearts delight.

After all, there have been courts in the past where the proceedings did not become part of the public record, for instance the Star Chamber, and I think the results were not what we would really wish.

Tesla speeds to $1m profit


Regarding Hydrogen

Supposing you had a hydrogen well that gave you a large supply of the stuff, it would be better to set up a synthesis plant to make heavier hydrocarbons than to attempt to store the stuff in an easily portable manner. Petrol is not all that nice itself, but is much easier to deal with than hydrogen.

Of course, since we have no hydrogen wells, the question is moot anyway. If you plan to make hydrogen using other means, like electrolysis from electricity generated using ???, then you may as well just charge the batteries of an electric car directly, the efficiency will be higher than if you involve any sort of heat engine after the loss of electrolysis.

For city use I could see electric cars being quite useful. They don't have the range yet for longer trips, and this is inherent in the battery technology, which seems to be up against the basic laws of chemistry and physics. But given that the oil will not last forever, I can see them coming into their own even if they are no better than what we can manage now. However we all seem to have the habit of choosing our cars for the occasional use, rather than the day to day requirement.

Not too convinced yet about the hybrid idea, they seem to be excessively complex and don't seem to do any better than a pure Diesel can acheive.

El Reg to launch space paper plane


balsa no good?

Solomon Grundy, for something like 80 years balsa was the main material used for model aircraft. It is even now commonly used as a core material in composite boats. I have a model aircraft in my basement that was built in the mid sixties, and most of the original joints are still intact. The wood itself is still fine. OK, the stuff is vulnerable, particularly if soaked in water, but given a good choice of glue and a bit of protection over the top it is fine. At least to the point where most of my structural failures were caused by impact with the ground rather than material degradation. One of my gliders that spent six weeks out in the weather on a farm needed an extensive rebuild, but I don't think any other construction would have faired much better. The tailplane, rudder and fuselage were all OK, the wings had gone a bit soggy. The cows may not have improved matters either.

Of course, balsa is not paper, but if it is vital for it to be a paper aeroplane then borrow from the techniques used by an earlier generation and make it all out of paper. (including light card) You can make some quite amazing structures with paper if you put in the time and trouble.

Amazon Kindle doomed to repeat Big Brother moment


Anyone want a copy?

Orwell is out of copyright here in New Zealand (dead more than fifty years) so I guess if anyone wants a copy it is OK for me to make it. Dunno about the legality of sending it to another country of course. I did do the reverse once...I picked up a DVD copy of "Gone with the Wind" in Kuala Lumpur for $5, which is cheap enough to make me wonder if the vendor was actually legitimate. However, once I managed to bring it here, it would seem it is perfectly legitimate since that movie too is now well out of copyright. Incidently my understanding is that the customs folks here will confiscate illegal copies if they find them. I don't know how they would react to one that was actually out of copyright here but not in the country of origin, could be interesting!

Wikipedia's Gallery guy hung up to dry?


Too much said already but...

I'd still like to put in my 2 cents worth. Since I am neither US or UK, maybe I have a more neutral point of view! Firstly the amount of work put into making a copy does not in itself create a new copyright. Obviously jurisdictions vary but I think you will find that is generally true. In fact I think you will find that the more accurate the reproduction is the less likely you are to have created a copyright work. Just imagine for example, that I decide to remake an old movie, Casablanca for example since that is out of copyright where I live. If I make a slavish copy that is indistinguishable from the original, no court is going to recognise a copyright in the new work. On the other hand if I make a work that is loosely based on the original but quite different in many respects, then I will be able to claim copyright. (Think "West Side Story" and "Romeo and Juliet" for example. ) Such a copyright will not stop others from making their own works based on the public domain original.

Secondly, putting a lot of work in does not magicly convey some right to be paid. That applies even if the work truely is original, as many penniless struggling artists could tell you. The moral is don't do it unless you really want to, or unless you have a good plan for making the effort pay. That does I guess make it less likely that an organisation like the NPG would go to the trouble of digitising these works and putting them on line. But their situation must be a little bit like that of the bottled water sellers...you can't copyright water either but people seem to make money at it.

Which brings me to my last point. If the purpose behind copyright is to enrich the public domain by encouraging the production of works, why is there not some mechanism to ensure that works do eventually reach the public domain? There is to some degree, eg in the USA for printed works I beleive a copy is supposed to be lodged with the Library of Congress, so assuming they don't lose it along the way (file it with the moon tapes?), once it is out of copyright it should be possible to get access to theirs and copy it. Same should apply for anything, if you want a copyright a copy, as accurate as possible, should be on file, effectively an escrow copy. No copy on file, no copyright. That still makes it possible to make a work of art and keep it too yourself, should you so desire. you just can't ever claim copyright, but then you don't need it if you are not allowing copies.

Airbed-fixing German blows up mattress flat


Sounds dodgy

Must have been a lot of glue to give that sort of explosion. Usually when that sort of thing happens around here it is someone trying to brew up some "P". (Pseudoephedrine)

It does remind me of one of my mates when I was a teenager. He decided he wanted a powerful burner, and came up with a setup where a vacuum cleaner blew air through a closed container full of petrol, like an old style surface carburettor. The resulting mixture came out through a nozzle and burnt really well. Until the time he forgot and left the vaccuum cleaner on suck. In those days the motor was not sealed, so the machine filled up nicely and the brushes ignited the mixture. Didn't do the machine any good at all. The insurance company was mystified but paid up... I doubt if they were told the whole story.

Italian bride's bouquet downs ultralight


I remember that one...

@Stevie... Flight of the Phoenix, right?