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NASA Releases Footage of "Flying Saucer" Braking Test, Declares Success

Ford Prefect Re:The Parachute Will Work (55 comments)

The parachute that brought the latest rover to Mars also disintegrated during testing. However NASA proceeded with the design knowing that the atmosphere on Mars is not nearly as dense as it is on Earth.

They got it working in testing after that initial failure - and even that failure provided extremely useful high-speed video of its deployment.

Note the colossal wind tunnel. This latest, flying saucer tested parachute is way larger than that Curiosity parachute - so they've figured out a whole new testing regime. One that helpfully more closely matches conditions in the Martian atmosphere, too.

about three weeks ago

Mars (One) Needs Payloads

Ford Prefect Re:Microphones (77 comments)

A microphone has already been landed on Mars - unfortunately there was a risk of data corruption if the camera hardware it was attached to was turned on, so the microphone itself never got switched on...

about 1 month ago

TSA Prohibits Taking Discharged Electronic Devices Onto Planes

Ford Prefect Re:Is this new? (702 comments)

I travelled with a large external hard disk as well, once - which also got taken to one side and swabbed for stuff. Internal monologue: OH NO MY PRECIOUS DATA ... Oh, it's just the possibility of it being a bomb they're worried about.

On another occasion, I had fun with my home-made, Arduino-powered dSLR timelapse gadget - it got thoroughly inspected by the TSA. I'd already opted out of the backscatter X-ray whatsit, only for a swab-for-explosives test to give a (false-)positive. Eek. Cue being taken to one side, where they looked in my bag and found the timelapse-o-tron...

To give the screeners their due, they let me go after a few minutes - after I'd heard their complaints about the potential radiation doses they and the passengers were receiving from the backscatter X-ray thingers, and after I'd provided advice on what sort of camera to look into buying for a budding photographer.

Security fun elsewhere: carrying a plastic bag of loose change through the Eurostar security in Brussels (it basically looked like an amorphous, completely opaque lump on the X-ray) - and a random customs check at a UK airport giving a (false-)positive swab for some sort of illicit drugs. Eek.

about 2 months ago

Construction of World's Largest Telescope Finally Underway in Chile

Ford Prefect Re:The worlds largest optical/near-IR telescope (76 comments)

I guess "fully steerable" means "within ~20 of zenith" to you. But that's not what the rest of the world considers "fully steerable".

Oops. That was in reference to his Green Bank Telescope link - Arecibo being only partially steerable...

about 2 months ago

Construction of World's Largest Telescope Finally Underway in Chile

Ford Prefect Re:The worlds largest optical/near-IR telescope (76 comments)

The worlds largest single dish telescope is still the Green Bank Telescope (, which at 100m is ~6x the size.

World's largest fully-steerable single-dish telescope - the Arecibo Observatory is larger still at a diameter of 300m! (Impressive Arecibo exploration video here. The thing's sodding enormous.)

I went looking for the largest diameter multi-dish radio telescope. It looks like the biggest terrestrial 'telescope' is the Global VLBI system created by combining the European VLBI Network with the US Very Long Baseline Array - it's like some massive team of superheroes combining to save the Earth from some terrible secret of space. Or whatever. Apparently they can also add space-based telescopes when that just isn't enough. Which, quite frankly, is showing off...

My thoughts when seeing one of the beautiful, 10m diameter Keck optical telescopes up close a few years ago? I've had full control of a telescope bigger than that.

Radio Astronomers: Compensating For Something.

about 2 months ago

Help EFF Test a New Tool To Stop Creepy Online Tracking

Ford Prefect Re:Does it block Piwik Analytics? (219 comments)

Piwik is a self-hosted web analytics package. In other words, your visit to an EFF page is being tracked by the EFF.

about 4 months ago

Glamor, X11's OpenGL-Based 2D Acceleration Driver, Is Becoming Useful

Ford Prefect Re:Reminder (46 comments)

I dunno, I always get a big belly laugh whenever I log into something and see that horrible 1980s B&W X11 desktop, complete with ugly 'X' cursor.

Try flying on a Virgin America plane with the LCD screen inflight entertainment systems in the seat-backs. They'll often mass-reboot the things before or after a flight, briefly revealing that retro-fantastic, monochrome stippled background with 'X' cursor...

about 6 months ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Meanwhile, back in America (284 comments)

Do we have any Mars rovers close enough to the poles to not get sunlight in winter?

The non-roving Phoenix Mars probe landed sufficiently far north that reduced sunlight due to an approaching winter caused its (expected) failure. It most likely got buried by carbon dioxide ice later on anyway - orbital photos showed its solar panels got crushed...

For keeping space probes warm, radioisotope heater units are pretty common. Apparently the Chinese Moon rover has them - but it sounds like it hasn't successfully closed itself up in order to keep heat inside.

about 7 months ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Meanwhile, back in America (284 comments)

It's entering its second lunar night - it landed on the Moon on December 14th.

about 7 months ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Brief translation from Chinese (284 comments)

Is it normal in china to write news about a rover as if the rover was writing it?

No idea, but probes from other places have a peculiar tendency to write about themselves too.

about 7 months ago

Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

Ford Prefect Re:"Modernizing" museums is a blight on the world (99 comments)

The Babbage difference engine model is in the Computing section, on the 2nd floor

Definitely still there when I visited in early December last year - loads of Babbage stuff, in fact. Including his brain in a jar!

(The museum did feel kind of tired and empty compared with how I remembered it, sadly - and the Wellcome collection stuff didn't seem nearly as grisly as I thought it was as a ten-year-old. They've got some fancy new galleries at one end, but it's more of the raising-questions public-oriented kind of display rather than the dusty old real exhibits I've really come to appreciate. I did get a bit spoiled by the two branches of the Museum of Flight in Washington DC about a year ago, however. Blimey. Spaaaaaace!)

about 7 months ago

Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

Ford Prefect Re:"Modernizing" museums is a blight on the world (99 comments)

I always liked the working electromechanical telephone exchange.

If you're ever in Seattle, try the Museum of Communications. Fairly large old telephone exchange with colossal amounts of powered-up electromechanical telephone equipment - place a call on a phone and hear it rattling through the machinery until another phone next to you starts to ring. Loads of old teletypes, UNIX boxes and miscellaneous other hardware to look (and often poke) at.

Basically nerd heaven, yet surprisingly few people round here have heard of it. Makes the equivalent display at the London Science Museum look a bit silly.

about 7 months ago

Why Standard Deviation Should Be Retired From Scientific Use

Ford Prefect Re:Basic Statistics (312 comments)

Nuclear Resonance Imaging (NMR) was changed because people were afraid of word Nuclear despite it describing the process, unlike its replacement term.

Also, if you arrived at a hospital saying you were there for an NMR, you might have received something other than what you were expecting.

about 8 months ago

Intel Releases 5,000 Pages of Open-Source Haswell Documentation

Ford Prefect Re: Dear Nvidia... (111 comments)

I checked out that link and it looked like I was stepping back into the 90s. That image on the home page looks like it's a 256 colour GIF! Where's the specular mapping? Everything in those shots looks dead, like a bad phong highlighted raytrace.

There's much more impressive stuff going on with path tracing on conventional GPUs - something that, at least for me, is making a definite case for ungodly improvements in processing power for GPU hardware.

about 8 months ago

Raspberry Pi Hits the 2 Million Mark

Ford Prefect Re:The life of RRi (246 comments)

I've got a very-first-generation, USB-hobbled-by-polyfuses-until-I-performed-surgery-on-the-thing 256MB Raspberry Pi. The thing's part of my time-travelling Radio-4-Matic and thus transfers a few gigabytes a day over a little USB WiFi adaptor by streaming radio over the intertubes, buffering it for some hours then playing it back.

Uptime? Right now:
19:12:14 up 52 days, 15:46, 1 user, load average: 0.01, 0.09, 0.12

Last reboot was for a system upgrade of some description; the things are pretty stable now. (There have been many improvements to the firmware and system software.) My other Pi (a more recent 512MB model) is busy being a tiny home fileserver and virtual server backup device (remote stuff rsyncs over ssh to this thing) - I could easily use a spare PC for those tasks, but the result would be a lot less near-silent and much more power-hungry. Plus it can saturate 100Mbit ethernet with file serving - faster isn't much use when most of my stuff is on WiFi.

Make sure you've got a decent power supply. Apparently voltage drops can be a big source of instabilities. Power for my midget fileserver is via a Samsung cube phone charger; the radio's got a hacked-together DC-DC converter running off a mains-to-12V-DC adaptor. (I'm surprised the thing is as stable as it is, what with it solely relying on my impromptu electronics hackery!)

about 9 months ago

MenuetOS, an OS Written Entirely In Assembly Language, Inches Towards 1.0

Ford Prefect Re:Technically everything is written in assembly (372 comments)

But in the end, it's all nothing but quarks and electrons, bound together and moving in various combinations and patterns, interacting via strong force (gluons) and electromagnetic force (photons).

Actually, below that it's mostly Perl.

about 10 months ago

Mac OS 10.9's Mail App — Infinity Times Your Spam

Ford Prefect Re:I guess I have to ask (158 comments)

I'm using with Dovecot as the IMAP server - I upgraded to OS X 10.9 a few days ago, and haven't seen anything weird going on (yet). I sent myself a test email a few minutes ago while watching the Mail Activity window, and numbers appeared sensible. dovecot.index and dovecot.index.cache files on the server aren't ballooning - at 178KB and 11MB respectively.

The Fastmail article mentions Cyrus as the IMAP server. Is it Cyrus-specific, or have I simply not been bitten by this yet? (I get loads of spam, but it gets pre-processed by Spamassassin so rarely gets to see any in the main inbox itself.)

about 10 months ago

A Ray of Hope For Americans and Scientific Literacy?

Ford Prefect Re:Does it really matter? (668 comments)

The Koch brothers, aka Tea Party, don't really care about science as such.

Actually, one of them makes pretty hefty donations to science-related stuff, including big exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History. Human evolution, and all that.

(The socialist in me wonders if the latter is revealing some belief in social darwinism - survival of the fittest, and all that. Eek.)

about 10 months ago



Time-travelling 1970s transistor radio, with WiFi

Ford Prefect Ford Prefect writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Ford Prefect writes "If you're British, you'll know what BBC Radio 4 is. And if you grew up with it then moved abroad, timezones are a problem. Especially if you've moved to the eight-hours-out Seattle. So, with a Raspberry Pi and a 1970s Roberts radio, I built a solution. Which, in some space-time continuum-collapsing temporal loop, promptly appeared on Radio 4 itself. Oops! Assembly instructions, source code and pictures included for any expats wishing to build something similar..."
Link to Original Source

Ford Prefect Ford Prefect writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Ford Prefect writes "80,000 votes, and 4000 mods to choose from — but visitors to the popular Mod DB have spoken. So, fresh from the weird and wonderful world of game modifications come the 2006 Players' Choice Awards, complete with cash and hardware prizes from a variety of sponsors. (Disclaimer: I was fifth. So without further ado, I'd like to thank my family, my agent, blah blah blah blah blah...)"


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