* Posts by Mark G Forbes

17 posts • joined 3 Jul 2007

Project Tango: Google's all-ringing, all-dancing 3D-sensing smartphone

Mark G Forbes

This seems to me like a step toward the product I really want....

Google Life.

As in, "where the heck did I leave my keys?" and a little icon pops up on the

phone with a Maps-like pointer showing them in the gap between the couch


When they introduced Google Office, I was hoping it would point to which stack

of paper in my office had the drawings I was looking for. Not yet, anyway.

How our shaken Reg Playmonaut survived a 113,000ft stratodangle

Mark G Forbes

Launch technique?

Just curious...why the running start for the launch? It's a balloon...so aerodynamic lift shouldn't be a concern. Launching a glider (hang or para), then sure...but a balloon?


Feds to carmakers: 'Rein in high-tech dashboards'

Mark G Forbes
Black Helicopters

Head on a swivel?

Texters, tweakers and twitterers aside...whatever happened to the notion that pedestrians should keep their heads on a swivel and not assume that all those multi-ton hunks of steel will just magically stop as they saunter off the curb? It astonishes me to see folks blithely stepping off the curb with nary a glance to either side, earbuds insulating them from the real world. Sure, they've got "right of way", but that's cold comfort when you're looking at the body bag from the inside.

Cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians, it's true. ALSO in the traffic code is the requirement that the pedestrian shall STOP at the curb, LOOK both ways, and then proceed when it's safe to do so, without forcing traffic to make an emergency stop to accommodate them. Cars must stop when the pedestrian clearly is ready to cross, unless doing so would require a dangerous stop.

Mom always told me that every driver is actually a homicidal manic intent on killing me. I assume that they can't see, they're not paying attention, and the ones that *do* see me are only interested in racking up points in "Kill The Pedestrian". I cross when I'm sure they can't get me no matter how hard they try. Same applies on the bicycle and the motorcycle. When it comes to traffic, they really ARE out to get you!

38 states grill Google on three-year Wi-Fi slurp

Mark G Forbes
Thumb Up

Why SSID sniffing?

"...why did Google see a need to be about collecting SSIDs, or any other wireless information while photographing the neighborhood(s)?"

To provide additional geolocation data. With the prevalence of wireless nodes these days, it's possible to determine where you are (roughly) based on what SSIDs you can see. Even if you're not logged into those networks, the fact that they're in range still gives you information about where you are. No GPS signal required, either. The new iPod Touch that I just bought uses the WiFi signals to figure out where I am. From what I see on the web, there's an outfit called skyhookwireless that has the database that makes it all happen.

Works indoors too, where GPS doesn't. Now, I realize that if you're indoors, you probably already know where you are, but the mapping and search tools use that data to show you where things are in your area. I used this the other day at Home Depot, to find the location of the nearest Radio Shack for a TV connector that they didn't have in stock.

Intel claims 'best quarter ever'

Mark G Forbes

Inflation adjusted

IF inflation was 10% per annum, there might be a valid criticism here. But it's not, and it hasn't been for quite a while. In fact, the long term average has been sub-3% in recent years:


Intel is a global company, and this is US data, so there are clearly more factors at play given

the global market for chips, but I don't think it's a stretch to argue that this is Intel's best quarter.

Tux, cuz that's what the chips in the servers do.....

Hero corduroy overpowers US school gunman

Mark G Forbes

Bail set, not "made"

The Littleton Gazette article reports that he's being held on $1million *cash* bail, so it's very unlikely he'll be out wandering around before trial. A quote from the article:

"The man accused of wounding two middle school students in a community still haunted by the Columbine massacre had become increasingly erratic in recent weeks, yelling at imaginary friends and complaining that eating macaroni and cheese made too much noise, his father said Wednesday."


"The older man said that his son used to talk to himself a lot, but in the past month, he had begun yelling. The younger man also complained that the refrigerator was too loud and that certain foods made too much noise, his father said."

The only problem with this is that you get the same behavior from certain type-A personalities with cellphone headsets.

"No officer, I'm not a flaming homicidal whacko. My earpiece battery needs a charge."

Hard to tell the deranged from the executroids any more. Not that there ever *was* that much difference.....

eBooks: What to read on which reader

Mark G Forbes
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DRM? Not necessarily

I personally don't see what the big deal is about DRM and the Kindle. I have both the original Kindle and the new DX. I haven't bought a DRM'd book yet, and I use it for reading all the time. I've found lots of stuff I want to read in the Gutenberg collection, and plenty on the Baen Free Library. There are other sources too, but I don't have infinite reading time. Baen's prices are quite reasonable for ebooks, and I've bought a bunch of theirs, no DRM at all. You don't *have* to buy books that use DRM if you don't want to, and I choose not to. That doesn't keep me from reading.

The DX has worked out well so far for its intended purpose, which is to be my repository of PDF technical manuals. It saves me from hauling around inches-thick binders full of paper, which is what I was doing until I bought it this summer. Yes, I could read them using Acrobat on my laptop screen, but usually I'm trying to do some work on that same screen, and I want the datasheet to be concurrently-visible while I'm working.

Trojan plunders $480k from online bank account

Mark G Forbes

Freeware virus scanners and such?

I see reference above to freeware tools for cleaning and inspecting Windows PCs. I'm aware that such tools exist, but I also know that fake tools of this type are a prime vector for malware. So how does one determine which tools are in fact 'safe', and which ones are scams? I've been careful and so far have managed to avoid infection, so far as I know, by implementing a reasonable degree of paranoia. An e-card, no matter from whom, is automatically assumed to be fraudulent. I delete most forwarded stuff un-opened if it has links in it that go somewhere I don't recognize, and I run Firefox with NoScript and a lot of 'features' turned off.

Any advice from those who know?

Branson mothership bottom smacked in 'touch & go' incident

Mark G Forbes

Landing practice

Dirt Hurts.

Accidents don't happen up in the air, except in the extraordinarily rare case of a mid-air collision. Damage happens when airplanes encounter dirt, so it's no surprise that pilots tend to crack up airplanes during takeoff and landing practice. These skills are critical to practice on a regular basis. To fly an airplane is really pretty simple. Cruising from A to B is a no-brainer, and there's very little learning that takes place while in level flight or while making course corrections.

The place where flying skill comes into play is during the takeoff and (especially) landing phase of flight. That's when judgment of angles and speeds, maneuvering ability and multi-tasking all come to the fore. But for every hour of "normal flying", a pilot may only spend a minute or two on the transition from air to ground. That's why good pilots sharpen their skills by going out to the field and doing a dozen laps around the pattern, focusing on those critical moments when the airplane transitions from a ground-based to sky-based vehicle. To further heighten the training effectiveness, we don't just do this practice in perfect conditions. We intentionally land crosswind at times, because sometimes you *have* to land that way and it's good to know how before you need it. We may practice in gusty or turbulent conditions, because again, sometimes you don't have a choice, and there's no pulling over to the curb when you're flying. If you aren't ready for the worst, it's sure to come and bite you when there's no alternative.

Test flights on a new aircraft are designed to find out how the airplane flies, and to uncover any flaws that might not show up in simulations. A simulation is only as good as the numerical model, and we know the models aren't perfect. Flight test refines the model and improves the simulation accuracy. I'd be surprised if there *weren't* problems during the testing phase; it would suggest that the tests aren't rigorous enough.

A tail scrape isn't a major accident, by any means. Based on the past history of these aircraft designers, I'm sure that by the time the program is complete they'll have figured out what tweaks to make and they'll have an aircraft and spacecraft that work properly.


Amazon Kindle set to go massive

Mark G Forbes
Thumb Up

Kindle? I love it!

I have a Kindle that I bought a couple of months ago. It's great; it goes everywhere

with me. I've read it sitting on mountaintops waiting for the wind to come around

before flying my hang glider, in my tent after flying, in restaurants and at home in

bed. It works just like a book.

I was just on a 10-day trip with my Kindle, reading it every day for several hours, and

didn't bring the charger. It was down a couple of bars on battery by the end of the

trip. I keep the wireless switched off unless I need to download something, and the

battery lasts for ages.

Content is available. There are thousands of free ebooks out there for download,

and still more through vendors other than Amazon. Yes, you can pay for content

through Amazon too, but you don't have to. The books I buy are DRM-free and

I'm happy to support authors who provide me with stuff to read.

My paperback collection is about 3000 volumes, accumulated over a 30-year

period. I read *a lot*. The collection takes up a lot of space in the various book

cases I've built around the house, but the hundred or so books in my Kindle

don't take up any room at all.

One thing I particularly like about the Kindle, vs a "regular book" is the page

turning. When I'm eating, I'm usually reading. With a paper book, it's hard to

keep the pages from flipping unless I find something to set on them to hold

them in place. With the Kindle, I just set it flat and tap the "next page" bar as

needed. There's one on each side so I can hit it whether I'm holding a sandwich

in my right hand, or holding the Kindle in my left. With the cover flipped back,

I can loop the elastic strap around one hand to hold it, and curl my fingers around

to hit the next page bar. It's very versatile in that regard, works great no matter

which way I'm holding it.

My one complaint was the cover, which it fitted into loosely. I fixed that with a

couple pieces of Velcro, which lock the Kindle into the cover so it won't fall out.

Now when I hand it to Mom and she flips it upside down, it doesn't take a dive

toward the floor. :-)

If Amazon came out with a larger-format version, I'd buy one. I'd particularly like

to have a full letter-size display with PDF support, for the piles of electronic

component datasheets that I currently print out on dead trees. It would be great

to have that material available for easy reference on an e-ink display.

It's not a web browser. It's not a PDA. It's a book, and it works just like one. As

for the moisture-proof aspect....just how dunk-resistant do you think a paper

book is? At least the Kindle can be wiped off, and it doesn't curl up its pages.


COBOL thwarts California's Governator

Mark G Forbes
Thumb Up

Insane pricing gotchas

Many years ago, a customer wanted us to include a new feature in our software. We had plenty of other things to work on that were higher priority, so we put him off. But he was persistent, insistent and consistent in his request. Finally our company owner quoted him a price just to shut him up.

"Forty thousand dollars...that's the fee for your custom feature request."

(Ha! That'll keep him quiet!)

The customer pulled out his corporate check ledger and wrote out a check on the spot.

"Guys? You know that feature we've been back-burnering for the last year, for that one customer who kept asking? The one that's less important than anything else we're doing? Guess what..."

Maybe IBM figured they could avoid the job if they quoted a high enough price?

Added green burden could ground flying cars for good

Mark G Forbes

Light sport planes are already almost there

My light-sport trike flies at 40mph, lands at 30 in just a couple hundred feet, and could (with some effort) have its wings furled and operate as a road vehicle. But practically speaking, it's a non-starter. While I *could* land it on a local football field (either variant) I'm sure that if I did I'd soon be facing a local authority on some sort of charge. Commuting would be a pain due to the road/air transition time, and it's not road-legal anyway since it lacks brake lights (and indeed, brakes except for the front wheel) headlights, turn signals, bumpers, windshield wipers and all that clatter.

I'd love to have a flying car. What I have right now is probably about as close as you're going to get. A powered paraglider lands in just a few dozen feet, packs up small and could be used for commuting...until you try to head home into a 20mph headwind. In a car, you don't even notice. On a PPG, you're going to spend a long time going nowhere, if you can even manage to get aloft. More likely you'll glance out the window and call for a taxi. Turbulence could ruin your day on a permanent basis, and it'll never be simple enough for the typical pear-person to handle.

Padded flight suit and helmet on the end, mate.


Gene Simmons blames college kids for ruining music biz

Mark G Forbes

I'm happy to pay the real artists

Not a metalhead myself, but a jazz fan. I balk at paying more than about eight bucks for a CD in a record store, but I'll happily shell out $15 for one at a live performance. Why?

Simple....I'm buying it from the artists, and I know that the money that I hand them for a CD is going into their pockets, to support their continued performing careers. When Dave Frishberg has just spent a couple hours entertaining me with his witty lyrics and superb piano artistry, I'm happy to drop $45 on the three CDs of his that I don't already own. If Tony Pacini sends me an email to say that he's having an album release party next weekend, I'm there.

No way I'd fork over money to the RIAA/Sony/Disney/EMI cartel, if I can possibly avoid it. I buy used when possible, either locally or on Amazon. Musicians who want to make money in music should do so in the time-honored tradition; by playing for their supper, so to speak. Perform for people, and make the personal connections to the music. My money's going into live performance, not the pockets (or noses) of record company executives.

Fossett 'may never be found'

Mark G Forbes

Lots of downed planes in Nevada

There are hundreds of planes known to have been lost in Nevada. Many

have never been found. In the course of doing *this* search, they've found

some wrecks that were not previously known. For each of these newly

discovered sites, investigators are being sent in to gather information

and identify the aircraft. Families will be notified of the findings. Bodies

are unlikely, given the time since the crashes and the scavengers that

inhabit the deserts and mountains. It's a *very* remote part of the world.

It's a big search, for a famous person. Other people are searched for too,

but if they're not found after a few weeks of looking, the safe assumption

is that they're beyond help and no further organized effort is justified.

Searching is not without risk; if there's a chance of recovering a pilot

alive, that's one thing. It's quite another to put a lot of pilots at risk looking

around for a dead body.

This past weekend climbers on Mt. Hood here in Oregon were up looking for

the bodies of two guys who were lost on the mountain last winter. They're

pretty sure they know where they were, but the crews didn't find any sign

of the bodies. They may never be found. They're looking now because it's

late in the season and the snowpack has melted back far enough to

possibly reveal the bodies.

A paraglider pilot I knew some years back was lost in the Alps, when he

went off for a flight and disappeared. We organized a search for him, but

after a week or so of no trace, it was clear that wherever he was, he was

beyond our help. Nothing has ever been found of him or his wing, but I

expect that someday a climber or hiker will come across his remains.

Old timers boozing themslves into oblivion

Mark G Forbes

Sensible drinking?

"A spokesman for the organisation offered: "Sensible drinking is advisable at any age[...]"

Excellent! I'm sure that the pre-teen crowd will be glad to hear this, and eager to explore the limtis of "sensible drinking".

Bottoms up!

eBayer offers a further Enigma

Mark G Forbes

Enigma now even more enigmatic

As of just a bit ago, the eBay listing has been removed. Perhaps one of the WW2 U-boat men has acted to protect the secrets of the Fatherland?

Dell gets hot over refrigerant

Mark G Forbes

Energy savings?

A bit puzzled by the claims. The heat has to be removed somehow, and heat transfer requires an energy input. How does this system of refrigeration work so much more efficiently than a regular air conditioning system? At the end of the day, a bunch of warm air is cooled and the waste heat is rejected. Why would a bunch of little-bitty air conditioners be more efficient than one big one?

I understand that they're using a single-point compressor and distributed heat exchangers, but I still don't see where the savings are. Dumping the waste heat into an external sink (groundwater, a convenient river nearby, evaporative cooling tower, etc.) would improve efficiency, but that doesn't appear to be what they're doing.



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