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The Physics of Space Battles

Ford Prefect Re:Manual control (470 comments)

The most unrealistic thing in space operas is the notion that the human crew could do anything in terms of gunnery or navigation better than a computer.

While definitely not using realistic physics in any way, I liked a space battle in one of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. A horribly beweaponed Culture ship is describing to its human passenger precisely how it is outwitting and annihilating its alien foes, mentioning that there's a particularly good moment coming up - eventually admitting that it's merely running through a slow-motion replay, the real battle having been over in a matter of milliseconds.

about three weeks ago
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Trouble In Branson-Land, As Would-Be Space Tourists Get Antsy Over Delays

Ford Prefect Re:They're not astronauts, they're ballast. (77 comments)

For space tourism flights to the International Space Station, they're regarded as spaceflight participants rather than 'proper' astronauts (or cosmonauts).

Having seen quite how much training fully qualified astronauts and cosmonauts have to go through, I wouldn't be surprised if they become some vaguely protected terms in the not-so-far future...

about a month ago
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Northwest Passage Exploration Ship Found

Ford Prefect Re:Who names those ships? (80 comments)

Offensive Unit All Through With This Niceness And Negotiation Stuff is just a friendly neighborhood warship.

I've seen half-serious suggestions that, should Scotland gain independence and create its own navy, all its ships should be named after Culture spacecraft...

about a month and a half ago
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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 2 months ago
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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 3 months ago
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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 3 months ago
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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 4 months ago
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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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 4 months ago
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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 6 months ago
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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 7 months ago
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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 9 months ago
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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 9 months ago
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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 9 months ago
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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 9 months ago
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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 9 months ago
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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 9 months ago

Submissions

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Time-travelling 1970s transistor radio, with WiFi

Ford Prefect Ford Prefect writes  |  about 2 years 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
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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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