March 6, 2017

David Fletcher’s Tank Chats #1: The A13 Cruiser

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 13 Feb 2015

The first in a series of short films about some of the vehicles in our collection presented by The Tank Museum’s historian David Fletcher MBE.

The A13 was the first British tank to have Christie Suspension. With a top speed of 40 miles per hour, it was much faster than the German Panzers, and had one of the best guns of its time. Despite this, many were lost in the battle for France in 1940. They fared better in the desert when their speed enabled them to cut off and defeat a huge Italian Army at Beda Fomm in Libya.

March 4, 2017

Let There Be Light – The Invention Of The Light Bulb I THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 20 Feb 2015

Welcome to IT’S HISTORY! We are kicking off this new history channel by taking you on a journey through the Industrial Revolution. In our first episode about INVENTIONS, Brad Explains everything about the history of the light bulb – it was a long way from the discovery of fire till the first electrical lightning. Learn who else, besides Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla helped form the technology that illuminates our nights to this day!

March 3, 2017

“Apollo 8 altered the self-perception of our species forever”

Filed under: History, Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh contrasts the insane bravado of John F. Kennedy’s moonshot announcement with the more recent insane bravado of Elon Musk and SpaceX:

SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded in 2002 by billionaire adventurer Elon Musk, says it is developing plans to fly two unnamed persons to the moon late in 2018. This announcement has created both skepticism and alarm. This is, I think, partly a matter of confusion about prepositions.

If I announced that, despite being Canada’s most sedentary citizen, I was going to Mount Everest next week, you would probably know better than to assume I was going UP the mountain. SpaceX’s proposal is to send a manned spacecraft beyond the moon. That’s the word they use in the SpaceX press release, and whoever chose it should get a big fat bonus. “Beyond” is an English word of unparalleled connotative power and romance.

But, of course, going beyond the moon — more prosaically, looping around it and coming back — is much, much simpler than landing ON it. It is probably not a fantastically difficult challenge, and the company’s zany-sounding timeline may be justified. (Mind you, this is not a prediction.)

Even if you are old enough to have followed the golden age of spaceflight as it happened, you may not understand or remember the half-insane ambition of John F. Kennedy’s original proposal to land men on the moon. For young and old, the moment that the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the Sea of Tranquility tends to obscure everything else about the tale in retrospect. But no U.S. astronaut had orbited the Earth yet when JFK threw down the gauntlet. No spaceship had photographed, much less touched, the moon.

Taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, at mission time 075:49:07 (16:40 UTC), while in orbit around the Moon, showing the Earth rising for the third time above the lunar horizon. The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. Width of the photographed area at the lunar horizon is about 175 kilometers. The land mass visible just above the terminator line is west Africa. Note that this phenomenon is only visible to an observer in motion relative to the lunar surface. Because of the Moon’s synchronous rotation relative to the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth), the Earth appears to be stationary (measured in anything less than a geological timescale) in the lunar “sky”. In order to observe the effect of Earth rising or setting over the Moon’s horizon, an observer must travel towards or away from the point on the lunar surface where the Earth is most directly overhead (centred in the sky). Otherwise, the Earth’s apparent motion/visible change will be limited to: 1. Growing larger/smaller as the orbital distance between the two bodies changes. 2. Slight apparent movement of the Earth due to the eccenticity of the Moon’s orbit, the effect being called libration. 3. Rotation of the Earth (the Moon’s rotation is synchronous relative to the Earth, the Earth’s rotation is not synchronous relative to the Moon). 4. Atmospheric & surface changes on Earth (i.e.: weather patterns, changing seasons, etc.).
NASA photo via Wikimedia.

Sharpening a Chisel with Paul Sellers

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Feb 2017

Chisels come from the manufacturer needing preparing or initialising as well sharpening. How do you check they are flat and get them sharp? Paul shows you the process he follows. This gets them to the level we need for crisp and accurate work.

For more information on these topics, see https://paulsellers.com or https://woodworkingmasterclasses.com

March 2, 2017

Possible end-game for the British nuclear deterrent

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross speculates on a few ways that Il Donalduce could trigger the end of Britain’s nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines:

Working hypothesis #1: Donald Trump is an agent of influence of Moscow. Less alarmingly: Putin’s people have got blackmail material on the current President and this explains his willingness to pursue policies favourable to the Kremlin. Russian foreign policy is no longer ideologically dominated by communism, but focusses on narrow Russian interests as a regional hegemonic power and primary oil and gas exporter.

Clearly, it is not in Russia’s geopolitical interest to allow a small, belligerent neighbor to point strategic nuclear missiles at Moscow. But this neighbor’s nuclear capability has a single point of failure in the shape of the resupply arrangements under the 1958 UK-USA Agreement. Donald Trump has made no bones about his willingness to renegotiate existing treaties in the USA’s favor, and has indicated that he wants to modernise and expand the US strategic nuclear capability. Existing nuclear weapons modernization programs make the first goal pointless (thanks, Obama!) but he might plausibly try to withdraw British access to Trident D-5 in order to justify commissioning four new US Navy SSBNs to carry the same missiles and warheads.

(Yes, this would break the “special relationship” between the USA and the UK for good — but remember, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about: the original diplomatic bull in a china shop who decapitated the state department in his first month in office.)

Trump could present this as delivering on his promise to expand the US nuclear capability, while handing his buddy a gift-wrapped geopolitical easter egg.

Working hypothesis #2: Let us suppose that Donald Trump isn’t a Russian agent of influence. He might still withdraw, or threaten, British access to Trident as a negotiation lever in search of a better trade deal with the UK, when Theresa May or her successor comes cap-in-hand to Washington DC in the wake of Brexit. It’s a clear negative sum game for the British negotiating side — you can have a nuclear deterrent, or a slightly less unpalatable trade deal, but not both.

In this scenario, Trump wouldn’t be following any geopolitical agenda; he’d just be using the British Trident renewal program as a handy stick to beat an opponent with, because Trump doesn’t understand allies: he only understands supporters and enemies.

As for how fast the British Trident force might go away …

Missiles don’t have an indefinite shelf-life: they need regular servicing and maintenance. By abrogating the 1958 agreement, or banning Royal Navy warships from retrieving or delivering UGM-133s from the common stockpile at King’s Bay, POTUS could rely on the currently-loaded missiles becoming unreliable or unsafe to launch within a relatively short period of time — enough for trade negotiations, perhaps, but too short to design and procure even a temporary replacement. It’s unlikely that French M51 missiles could be carried aboard Dreadnought-class SSBNs without major design changes to the submarines, even if they were a politically viable replacement (which, in the wake of Brexit, they might well not be).

February 28, 2017

When the great AI singularity happens, you’ll be sorry you called Siri a bitch

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Amy Alkon views with disdain a Quartz article on sexually harassing, inter alia, Alexa and Siri:

Quartz Seriously Wants To Know: Are You Sexually Harassing Your Phone?
There’s an unbelievable piece up at Quartz, reflecting a gone-mad sector of our society — ultimately driven by radical academic feminism (though typically not admitting or crediting its nutbag roots).

Feminism was supposed to be about women wanting equal treatment. Now, as I like to put it, feminist no longer demand that women be treated as equals but as eggshells.

This article is a case in point. “We tested bots like Siri and Alexa to see who would stand up to sexual harassment,” is the headline. […]

First of all, if I could have Siri in either a bitchy drag queen voice or an Indian accent (from India, that is), which I love, I would. French or Italian or Eastern European would be fun, too. Because Apple’s rather boring about this — probably to serve an increasingly humorless and humor-attacking public — I think I have it on the British guy right now.

But I hate Siri and never use it.

The point is, you can change Siri to a man and harass the fuck out of it. I yell profanity at automated telephone systems when they repeatedly won’t accept my answer — both because I’m kind of immature and because there was this (probably mythic) idea out there that swearing would trigger a live operator to come on.

And per these evolved sex differences — we go for different Achilles heels in men and women when we’re attacking them. That’s because men and women are biologically and psychologically different, and men are more likely to be leaders, for example, and women are more likely to be caretakers.

Though male brains and female brains are mostly similar, these evolved sex differences lead to some differences in our psychology and how we present ourselves in the world (including the roles women versus men tend to have).

How to Make Medieval Stocks – Torture Your Friends and Family With This DIY Pillory

Filed under: History, Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Oct 2016

You can make this fun DIY medieval torture device in a weekend! FREE PLANS and full article►► http://woodworking.formeremortals.net/2016/10/how-to-make-medieval-stocks-pillory/

February 25, 2017

James May does his Clarkson impression! EXTRAS – James May Q&A (Ep 20)- Head Squeeze

Filed under: Business, Humour, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 May 2013

James rambles about barcodes and supermarkets before unleashing his perfect Jeremy Clarkson impression!

February 24, 2017

Weird Al Yankovic Explains Autotune

Filed under: Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Uploaded on 12 Nov 2009

February 23, 2017

An open letter to the DHS on social media identities

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow:

A huge coalition of human rights groups, trade groups, civil liberties groups, and individual legal, technical and security experts have signed an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security in reaction to Secretary John Kelly’s remarks to House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month, where he said the DHS might force visitors to America to divulge their social media logins as a condition of entry.

The letter points out that the years’ worth of private data — including commercially sensitive information; privileged communications with doctors, therapists and attorneys; and personal information of an intimate and private nature — that the DHS could access this way would not belong only to non-US persons (who are, of course, deserving of privacy!), but also US persons, whose lives the DHS would be able to peer into without warrant, oversight or limitation.

The letter also points out that once America starts demanding this of foreigners visiting its shores, other governments will definitely reciprocate — so American travelers would be forced to reveal everything from trade secrets to the most personal moments with their loved ones with governments hostile to US interests.

Trade disputes tend to devolve into tit-for-tat retaliation. Initiatives like this will work exactly the same way (except you can be certain that politicians will hold out for their own right to privacy while demanding that private citizens and foreigners give up theirs).

February 18, 2017

Top Gear‘s James May on How to drive a Ford model T

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 23 Aug 2016

Top Gear‘s James May on How to drive a Ford model T

February 13, 2017

“[M]ost of what journalists know about radioactivity came from watching Godzilla

Filed under: Japan, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains why the “news” out of Fukushima lately has been mostly unscientific hyperventilation and bloviation:

On February 8, Adam Housley of Fox News reported a story with a terrifying headline: “Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels.” Let’s just pick up the most exciting paragraphs:

    The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels.

    [Housley] said the radiation levels — as high as 530 sieverts per hour — are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor.

    “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

The degree to which this story is misleading is amazing, but to explain it, we need a little bit of a tutorial.

The Touhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with all the other damage they caused, knocked out the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi (“plant #1”) and Daini (“plant #2”) reactors. Basically, the two reactors were hit with a 1000-year earthquake and a 1000-year tsunami, and the plants as built weren’t able to handle it.

Both reactors failed, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, melted down. I wrote quite a lot about it at the time; bearing in mind this was early in the story, my article from then has a lot of useful information.


So what have we learned today?

We learned that inside the reactor containment at Fukushima Daini, site of the post-tsunami reactor accident, it’s very very radioactive. How radioactive? We don’t know, because the dose rate has been reported in inappropriate units — Sieverts are only meaningful if someone is inside the reactor to get dosed.

Then we learned that the Fukushima accident is leaking 300 tons of radioactive water — but until we dig into primary sources, we didn’t learn the radioactive water is very nearly clean enough to be drinking water. So what effect does this have on the ocean, as Housley asks? None.

The third thing we learned — and I think probably the most important thing — is to never trust a journalist writing about anything involving radiation, the metric system, or any arithmetic more challenging than long division.

February 6, 2017

Social media, big data, and (lots of) profanity

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Scott Adams linked to this video (which is very NSFW), discussing how social media platforms can use their analytic tools to “shape” communications among their users:

February 1, 2017

Ace and the shitty tools of despair

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ace put up some shelves recently. He was not impressed with some of the tools he used:

I thought I had a drill that could drill (and drive screws) through studs. I did not. What I had was two pieces of shit which, combined together, made up a collection of shit that took up more space in my tool drawer than a single piece of shit would.

The things could not even push past the first eighth inch of drywall. The easiest part.

It’s like, “Hey, thanks Tool. Thanks for getting me past that first easy eighth inch. I’ll take it the rest of the way, now that you’ve gotten me off to such a swell start. You take a well-earned break, and get back to napping in that drawer. I’ll power through the rest of this with my forearms and my dinky little ratchet.”

I literally was just pushing on the drill to make a small starter hole for the screw, like it was a poorly-balanced nail with a pistol grip.

It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but I think you can all agree I am a poor workman in the first place, and these really are shitty, shitty tools.

January 29, 2017

Once upon a time, in hacker culture…

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

ESR performs a useful service in pulling together a document on what all hackers used to need to know, regardless of the particular technical interest they followed. I was never technical enough to be a hacker, but I worked with many of them, so I had to know (or know where to find) much of this information, too.

One fine day in January 2017 I was reminded of something I had half-noticed a few times over the previous decade. That is, younger hackers don’t know the bit structure of ASCII and the meaning of the odder control characters in it.

This is knowledge every fledgling hacker used to absorb through their pores. It’s nobody’s fault this changed; the obsolescence of hardware terminals and the RS-232 protocol is what did it. Tools generate culture; sometimes, when a tool becomes obsolete, a bit of cultural commonality quietly evaporates. It can be difficult to notice that this has happened.

This document is a collection of facts about ASCII and related technologies, notably hardware terminals and RS-232 and modems. This is lore that was at one time near-universal and is no longer. It’s not likely to be directly useful today – until you trip over some piece of still-functioning technology where it’s relevant (like a GPS puck), or it makes sense of some old-fart war story. Even so, it’s good to know anyway, for cultural-literacy reasons.

One thing this collection has that tends to be indefinite in the minds of older hackers is calendar dates. Those of us who lived through all this tend to have remembered order and dependencies but not exact timing; here, I did the research to pin a lot of that down. I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to retrospectively back-date the technologies that interest them, so even if you did live through the era it describes you might get a few surprises from reading.

There are references to Unix in here because I am mainly attempting to educate younger open-source hackers working on Unix-derived systems such as Linux and the BSDs. If those terms mean nothing to you, the rest of this document probably won’t either.

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