July 28, 2011

First F-35C catapult launch

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:18

Lewis Page has more:

The test launch took place on the landbased steam catapult at US Naval Air Station Lakehurst (also the location of a prototype electromagnetic one of the type the Royal Navy will be compelled to use).

The F-35C is intended to operate from the catapult-equipped fleet carriers of the US Navy and will equip the Royal Navy and the RAF too. The jumpjet F-35B (formerly the chosen British model) will now be delivered only to the US Marines to begin with. The F-35A version, intended for ordinary landbased runway operations, will serve with the US Air Force and many allied nations.

Marking the 4th anniversary of The Guild

Filed under: Gaming, Humour, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:00

Greg Aronowitz has posted a retrospective of the first four years of The Guild:

I was fortunate enough to come aboard right at what could be argued as the tipping point for the show, with the “bonus feature” music video “Do You Want To Date My Avatar?” The video broke records, and went No.1 on several charts, including iTunes. People who had never played a video game or watched a web series were suddenly aware of The Guild, and the cross-over audience catapulted the show to numbers that previously were reserved for network television.

I had a great time working on the music video, but I had no idea at the time of the opportunities and adventures my association with The Guild would lead to. After reading Felicia’s article, I thought it might be fun to chronicle my involvement with the show on this special day. I went to my iPhoto, opened The Guild folder, and realized that I have over 4,000 photos! So I cancelled my lunch meeting, and put this quick run down memory lane together for you…

Update: The first episode of Season five just got posted:

<a href='http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/season-5-episode-1-road-trip/y02jncib?cpkey=b6705281-0625-41ed-b45d-c38f4ed3c2e2%7C%7C%7C%7C' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 1 - Road Trip!' >Video: Season 5 &#8211; Episode 1 &#8211; Road Trip!</a>

Signalling failure blamed for high speed rail crash

Filed under: China, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:32

This sounds a bit fishy, as this kind of error has been known in railway signal systems for over 100 years: signals that fail to show stop as a default whenever power is lost:

After it was struck by lightning, the signaling device at the Wenzhou South railway station malfunctioned and failed to turn from green to red, An Lusheng, chief of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, told the news agency. He also said workers on duty were inadequately trained and failed to notice the malfunction.

Xinhua’s report, the first official explanation of the cause of the crash, raised further questions about China’s high-speed rail system, one of the world’s largest and most costly public works projects. The accident occurred when one high-speed train rear-ended another that had stalled on the tracks near Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. High-speed rail has an excellent safety record elsewhere, especially in Japan, which has never had a fatality.

Chinese have flooded microblogging sites with furious complaints about breakneck development without heed to safety. Many also expressed fears of a cover-up, especially after reports that one train car was buried at the site despite the ongoing investigation and only later excavated.

July 27, 2011

If you can persuade 10% that you’re right, you can win the argument

Filed under: Media, Politics, Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 07:53

Ten percent of the population may be the tipping point for mass conversion to a new idea:

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

[. . .]

The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples. They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican.

Okay, everyone relax: China says aircraft carrier to be used for “research and training”

Filed under: China, Military, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:44

That’s the latest story from China, which has finally acknowledged that they are rebuilding the former Soviet aircraft carrier Shi Lang:

China has officially acknowledged that it is rebuilding an aircraft carrier it bought more than a decade ago, but says the refurbished ship will be used only for research and training.

A defence ministry spokesman, Geng Yansheng, told reporters on Wednesday that work was under way on refitting an old carrier, a reference to the Varyag, whose stripped-down hull was towed from Ukraine in 1998 and has been under reconstruction for the best part of a decade.

“Building an aircraft carrier is extremely complex and at present we are using a scrapped aircraft carrier platform to carry out refurbishment for the purposes of technological research, experiments and training,” Geng said.

US Navy’s (small) death ray/machine gun mounts

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:36

Lewis Page reports on the latest bit of weaponry being added to US Navy ships:

US Navy warships will soon be equipped with fearful combination weapons mounts boasting both heavy machine-guns and high powered laser rayguns, it has been announced.

Manufacturer Boeing says it has inked a teaming agreement with the US operations of arms globo-mammoth BAE Systems to build the Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System to naval requirements. We learn that the new raygun installation will be based on the existing Mk 38 Machine Gun System, a robotic gun turret whose primary punch is provided by the fearsome M242 Bushmaster Chain Gun, effectively a light auto-cannon.

[. . .]

We aren’t told the power level offered by the laser, which suggests that it isn’t very high: raygun projects always like to boast of any decent power level. The fact that the laser is small enough to be clipped onto an existing weapon also suggests light weight and limited puissance, as does the suggestion that it is an alternative to the Bushmaster rather than a replacement for it.

MS-DOS at thirty

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

It was indeed, according to The Register, thirty years ago that MS-DOS hit the market:

MS-DOS is 30 years old today. Well, kind of. On 27 July 1981, Microsoft gave the name MS-DOS to the disk operating system it acquired on that day from Seattle Computer Products (SCP), a hardware company owned and run by a fellow called Rod Brock.

SCP developed what it at various times called QDOS and 86-DOS to run on a CPU card it had built based on Intel’s 8086 processor.

Washington trades Donovan McNabb to the Vikings

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:17

I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming: I’d expected the Vikings to either go with Christian Ponder or Joe Webb as the starting quarterback, not to bring in a big name veteran:

The Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins have agreed in principle to a trade sending QB Donovan McNabb to Minnesota.

The deal is contingent upon McNabb taking a significant pay cut, but according to Jay Glazer, “FOXSports.com has learned the Minnesota Vikings have agreed to acquire McNabb in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft and possibly a conditional 2013 draft pick.”

That’s a much lower cost in draft picks than Washington was supposedly asking, so it works well for Minnesota in that dimension. It’ll be interesting to see how McNabb works with the two young quarterbacks in training camp.

Update: Of course, no trade will satisfy everyone, but this particular one has Ryan Boser incensed:

If you’ve read my work here, you’re well aware of my disdain for McNabb. At 10:15 tonight, Jay Glazer tweeted that the Vikings have agreed to send two sixth-round picks (2012, and a conditional 2013) to Washington for the 34-year old.

The deal is contingent on the egotistical vet taking a massive pay cut from the $12.5M he’s owed this season (he’s just one year into a six-year, $89.2M deal).

The optimist in me hopes that the delusional McNabb, who still thinks he’s elite, will put the kibosh on it. Realistically, it’s a lock that the Vikings will head into the season with their third (or fourth) choice under center.

[. . .]

He’ll obviously take a pay cut, but he’ll still cost a sub-.500 team chock-full of holes way too much cap space (in addition to the draft picks). Specifics for the restructured deal are expected tomorrow.

If the coaching staff were really worried about throwing first-rounder Christian Ponder (who’s been preparing like a maniac) to the wolves, then spend pennies on the backup mentor and let Joe Webb take the early-season starts.

Ponder’s the future, so you have nothing to lose by letting a sixth-round wide receiver be the sacrificial lamb. Who knows, you might just discover that you stumbled on to a gem. As it stands, you can stick a fork in Joe Webb, the quarterback.

Update, the second: Dan Zinksi has a bit of advice for McNabb:

The drama this time reportedly revolves around McNabb himself and his apparent hurt feelings over not being shown a level of deference comparable to that which the Vikings showed Brett Favre during their pursuit of him the last two seasons. As ESPN puts it, “McNabb was concerned Tuesday night about how the Vikings’ side of the situation was handled.” Evidently McNabb expected several Viking veterans to fly to his home in Zygi Wilf‘s jet bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh and possibly a six-pack, and was bothered when this did not happen.

[. . .]

Here’s my advice for you Donovan as you embark upon your new career as the quarterback the Vikings had to settle for because they lost out on Tyler Thigpen: Get your hands on that playbook as fast as possible. Also, get hold of Sidney Rice‘s phone number and start working on him to stay with the Vikings. You could have a nice array of weapons in Minnesota — better than you had last year in Washington for sure — but only if Rice stays. Third, try to be humble. Come in and say all the right things and do all the right things. And if your coaches ask you to wear a wristband? Remember that it’s for your own good and just wear the damn wristband.

July 26, 2011

Oh, Amazon, you temptress

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 17:19

I just noticed that the latest L. Neil Smith novel is available, so I clicked the Amazon.com link to find out more about it. While vampire stuff is pretty far out of my normal fiction reading tastes, this one sounds interesting enough to add it to my list: Sweeter Than Wine. The review by Rex F. May captures my normal disdain for the genre rather well:

I don’t like vampire novels. I don’t even like vampire stories. Never did. They lack verisimilitude if vampires have to bite people frequently, and the people they bite turn into vampires, why aren’t we all vampires by now? And what’s the deal with sunlight? And the garlic and the wooden stake? That all sounds like superstition. So to me, vampires belong in the realm of fantasy, not in science fiction at all, and, for the most part, I don’t enjoy fantasy very much. Now, there are some exceptions I like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld vampires, because the story is humorous, like all his stuff. But most vampire stories are dead serious, with all kinds of gothic, fifteen-year-old-girl orientation Twilight is nothing new, just a continuation of the old pattern. Same old same old rape fantasies porn for teeny-boppers.

Since it makes little sense to order a single book from Amazon, due to shipping costs, I clicked the Recommendations list to see what else is new, interesting, or Amazon’s algorithms consider might be appealing to me. Of the fifteen offerings on the first page, twelve of them are by Steven Brust. As I recently started reading his Vlad Taltos series, that kinda makes sense, but 12/15ths?

Page two of the recommendations were also heavily weighted to match a recent purchase, but this time the recommendations included The Iliad, The Odessey, Plato’s Republic, and works by Saint Augustine, Aristophanes, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Epictetus. The seed book for that seems to have been Peloponnesian War by Thucidides.

Page three appears to be an attempt to patch between the first two pages — Xenophon and several SF books by David Weber, John Ringo, George R.R. Martin, David Drake, and Tom Kratman.

The implied relationship between traffic tickets and corruption

Filed under: Economics, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:11

Tim Harford linked to this Forbes graphic showing an interesting correlation:

This nicely illustrates what he wrote in 2006:

An alternative view, popular among the common-sense crowd, is that corruption is a problem in Indonesia because Indonesians are crooks by nature; poor countries are poor because they are full of people who are lazy or stupid or dishonest. I disagree out of faith, rather than because the evidence is compelling. But then, what evidence could there be? You would need to take people from every culture, put them somewhere where they could ignore the law with impunity, and see who cheated and who was honest.

That sounds like a tall order for any research strategy, but the economists Ray Fisman and Edward Miguel have realised that diplomats in New York city were, in fact, the perfect guinea pigs. Diplomatic immunity meant that parking tickets issued to diplomats could not be enforced, and so parking legally was essentially a matter of personal ethics.

Fisman and Miguel found support for the common-sense view. Countries with corrupt systems, as measured by Transparency International, also sent diplomats who parked illegally. From 1997-2005, the Scandinavians committed only 12 unpaid parking violations, and most of them were by a single criminal mastermind from Finland. Chad and Bangladesh, regularly at the top of corruption tables, produced more than 2,500 violations between them. Perhaps poor countries are poor because they are full of corrupt people, after all.

Chinese government announces safety review after high speed rail crash

Filed under: Bureaucracy, China, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

In the wake of the deadly collision between two high speed trains, China announced a safety review of the high speed railway system:

Mr Sheng said railway officials would be deployed at frontline rail operations across the country to overhaul maintenance standards and checks on power connections to pre-empt outages.

All local railway bureaux were to draw lessons from the accident, a statement on the railways department website said.

Public fury and scepticism have been expressed in China’s blogosphere, both about the death toll of 39 people — suggesting it is too low — and the safety of China’s rail network.

State newspapers have also expressed concern. The Global Times ran a headline: Anger mounts at lack of answers.

“As the world is experiencing globalisation and integration, why can’t China provide the same safety to its people?” an editorial read.

ATF sting turns into arms pipeline for drug gang

Filed under: Americas, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

Operation Fast and Furious may have been intended to work as a trap for gun smugglers but appears to have become a reliable source of guns for Mexican gangsters:

Congressional investigators examining a gun-trafficking sting investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious have identified 122 weapons linked to the operation that have been recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, according to a report they are expected to release Tuesday.

The report, which offers new details about the operation, lists 48 occasions between November 2009 and February 2011 in which Mexican authorities found one or more such weapons, based on internal e-mails of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, whose Phoenix office set up the operation. It was compiled by the staffs of Representative Darrell Issa of California and Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the two Republicans leading the investigation.

“The faulty design of Operation Fast and Furious led to tragic consequences,” the report concludes. “Countless United States and Mexican citizens suffered as a result.”

$117,000 for a bottle of white wine

Filed under: History, Randomness, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:46

A new record price paid for a single bottle of white wine:

Christian Vanneque fulfilled a long-held dream today by finally getting his hands on a bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem. It just so happens that his $117,000 purchase has also put him in the history books.

His prized bottle is the most expensive white wine ever purchased, breaking the previous record of $100,000 in 2006 for a bottle of 1787 Chateau d’Yquem. Mr. Vanneque’s bottle is also a sweet Sauternes from the same Bordeaux chateau, though his purchase was produced in 1811, a year also known as the “comet year.” Oenophiles throughout history attribute the appearance of a comet for the reason why wines were extraordinary that year.

July 25, 2011

Mark Steyn responds to accusations that he “inspired” the attack in Oslo

Filed under: Europe, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 20:30

Mark Steyn is quoted in Norwegian terrorist Breivik’s “manifesto”, and this is being used to paint him and others as “inspiration” for the attacks. He responds:

I have been away from the Internet for the weekend, and return to find myself being fitted out for a supporting role in Friday’s evil slaughter in Norway. The mass murderer Breivik published a 1,500-page “manifesto.” It quotes me, as well as several friends of NR — Theodore Dalrymple, Daniel Pipes, Roger Scruton, Melanie Phillips, Daniel Hannan (plus various pieces from NR by Rod Dreher and others) — and many other people, including Churchill, Gandhi, Orwell, Jefferson, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, not to mention the U.S. Declaration of Independence.* Those new “hate speech” codes the Left is already clamoring for might find it easier just to list the authors Europeans will still be allowed to read.

It is unclear how seriously this “manifesto” should be taken. Parts of it simply cut and paste chunks of the last big killer “manifesto” by Ted Kaczynski, with the occasional [insert-your-cause-here] word substitute replacing the Unabomber’s obsessions with Breivik’s. This would seem an odd technique to use for a sincerely meant political statement. The entire document is strangely anglocentric — in among the citations of NR and The Washington Times, there’s not a lot about Norway.

[. . .]

Any of us who write are obliged to weigh our words, and accept the consequences of them. But, when a Norwegian man is citing Locke and Burke as a prelude to gunning down dozens of Norwegian teenagers, he is lost in his own psychoses. Free societies can survive the occasional Breivik. If Norway responds to this as the Left appears to wish, by shriveling even further the bounds of public discourse, freedom will have a tougher time.

More on that Chinese rail crash

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:49

The official story has changed a few times since the accident, and at least some Chinese feel they are entitled to the truth about the accident:

Internet users attacked the government’s response to the disaster after authorities muzzled media coverage and urged reporters to focus on rescue efforts. “We have the right to know the truth!” wrote one microblogger called kangfu xiaodingdang. “That’s our basic right!”

Leaked propaganda directives ordered journalists not to investigate the causes and footage emerged of bulldozers shovelling dirt over carriages.

Wang, the railways spokesman, said no one could or would bury the story. He said a colleague told him the wreckage was needed to fill in a muddy ditch to make rescue efforts easier.

But Hong Kong University’s China Media Project said propaganda authorities have ordered media not to send reporters to the scene, not to report too frequently and not to link the story to high-speed rail development. “There must be no seeking after the causes [of the accident], rather, statements from authoritative departments must be followed,” said one directive. Another ordered: “No calling into doubt, no development [of further issues], no speculation, and no dissemination [of such things] on personal microblogs!”

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