September 29, 2010

QotD: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by malice and incompetence”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:11

I used to publish in the National Post back in the day Conrad Black ran the show. It was a business run with integrity. The last time I had a call from their editorial board I had to explain the Post paid me 40 cents a word. The man was genuinely scandalized — I mean audibly taken aback and offended — when I told him I would not hand my work over to him for free (btw, Adam, how did selling your integrity work out for you? Looks like you got what it was worth).

These days they don’t bother to call. Last week, they took my Margaret Atwood story and ran with it uncredited. They lacked the decency to do something that would have cost them nothing.

[. . .]

I am a writer. I don’t expect to get paid much. But I do expect to get paid. If this country aspired to be something more than a grasping, pissant kleptocracy celebrating third-raters and UCC school ties my work — this blog and others like it — would be understood as part of the real Canadian cultural establishment.

Fortunately, I don’t require their acknowledgement.

Nicholas Packwood, “Neither honour nor courage: The National Post”, Ghost of a Flea, 2010-09-29

Taser shotgun shell

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:15

In a word, YIKES!

That is something nobody wants to be hit with, especially fired out of a shotgun.

The “X12” Taser shotgun is made by Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona and fires a battery-packed 12-bore shell with forward-facing barbs that deliver a debilitating electric shock.

In August last year, New Scientist revealed research that showed an early version of the weapon was both difficult to aim accurately, putting victims’ eyes at risk, and sometimes delivered a shock for more than five minutes, rather than 20 seconds.

A five minute jolt rather blurs the line between non-lethal and kinda-sorta-lethal, doesn’t it?

Transformer TX project initial funding awarded to AAI Corporation

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:14

Remember the “Flying Jeep” proposal? It’s still being pursued, as the initial funding for a flying gyrocopter/SUV has been awarded by DARPA:

Transformer TX, as we have previously reported, is intended to produce a vehicle able to drive on the ground with similar performance to a Humvee or other offroad vehicle. It must also be able to take off vertically with 1,000lb of passengers and payload aboard and fly about at altitudes up to 10,000 feet at speeds equivalent to normal light aircraft.

Perhaps best of all, the Transformer TX is also intended to be fully automated, capable of flying itself with only the most basic guidance from its human operator — who would not, therefore, need to be a highly trained pilot.

Admittedly, I know almost nothing about flying, but this sounds like getting something for nothing (that is, aren’t there laws of physics against this?):

The SR/C idea is basically a winged, propellor-driven light aeroplane with a set of free-spinning autogyro rotors on top. It’s not a helicopter: the engine can’t drive the rotors in flight, and a sustained hover isn’t possible. Nonetheless, though, the CarterCopter can take off vertically as required by Transformer TX rules.

It does this by having weighted rotor tips, meaning that a lot of energy can be stored in the spinning blades (rather as in a flywheel). Sitting on the ground, a small engine-driven “pre-rotator” assembly can gradually spin the rotors up to high speed. The pre-rotator, pleasingly, doesn’t have to transmit a lot of power — thus it is lightweight, cheap and simple compared to a helicopter’s transmission. Nor is the engine required to deliver the massive grunt required to keep chopper blades spinning hard enough to support the aircraft.

Once the rotors are at takeoff speed, the pre-rotator is declutched, the prop engaged and the pitch of the rotors pulled in so that they start to bite air. As they slow down, the energy stored in their whirling weighted tips blasts air down through the disc and the aircraft leaps vertically into the air in a “jump takeoff”.

Sounds amazingly like pulling yourself into the air by your own bootstraps . . .

Still, I’d like to eventually get that flying car I was promised all those years ago.

Austin Bay summarizes the demographic problems China is facing

Filed under: China, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:11

This is all old hat if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, but it’s always good to see a good summary of key points, like this list by Austin Bay:

Internal Disorder: China’s primary threat is not the United States, or any other foreign power, but internal disorder. There are more angry people in China every day, and the government knows that this could blossom into widespread uprisings. It has happened so many times before in Chinese history. Protesting factory workers are an indicator.

Corruption: Corruption is the biggest complaint among China’s discontented; government officials, who are more interested in enriching themselves than in taking care of “the people” are particular targets. Many of the demonstrations and labor disruptions are the result of corruption among local officials, including the police.

The Communications Dilemma: In 2007, Chinese Internet use grew to over 210 million users. Cell phones are also increasingly available. China is the world’s largest cell phone market. The Internet is an economic and educational tool. However, it also undermines an authoritarian government’s ability to control (deny and spin) information. China’s 2010 “war with Google.com” illustrated this dilemma.

Ethnic Minorities and Language: China has a population of 1.4 billion. Han Chinese (“ethnic Han”) constitute approximately 92 percent of China’s population. China also has 55 “minority nationalities,” however, amounting to 100 million people. The 2009 Uighur riots in Xinjiang province (western China) and resistance in Tibet are symptomatic of the problem. They are resisting “Hanicization.”

Pollution and Water: In early 2008, China began shutting down “high pollution” factories. The reason? To clear the air for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The growing wealth of the Chinese people is causing enormous pollution problems and water shortages. Effective pollution controls mean more expensive production methods. That makes Chinese goods less competitive.

The Marriage Gap: China’s “one child” policy crimped population growth, all right. More boys were born than girls; Chinese culture “favors” sons. As a result, there is a serious imbalance between men and women. In some places, there are 120 men per 100 women. Marriageable daughters are, reportedly, going largely to the upper social groups within each village or district. The sons of the poorest families are, to an extent, not finding wives. This is an indicator of future social trouble.

As I’ve said several times before, I’m not anti-Chinese: China has accomplished economic marvels in amazingly short time spans . . . but not without serious costs. Urban and coastal dwellers have benefitted disproportionally from the growth: rural and inland Chinese have suffered to provide the means for that growth. China is still not a free economy, and still represses dissent, imprisons critics, and controls far too much of the country’s economy both directly and indirectly. Corruption is rife, despite the savage punishment meted out to (some of) the (accused) perpetrators.

China’s miracle can’t continue for much longer unless the government starts to address these problems with the same kind of single-mindedness that they’ve brought to other problems. Introducing the rule of law would be an excellent first step, but it would directly challenge too many powerful men, some of whom (literally) have armies.

Cory Doctorow on what George Orwell got wrong

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:03

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