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New "Crescent Bay" VR Headset Revealed and Demo'd At Oculus Connect

Michael Woodhams A really impressive demonstration of VR... (64 comments)

... would be if you walked into the company's hospitality suite at a conference, put on the VR headset, looked around you ... and couldn't tell the difference.

An alien landscape is very cool and photogenic, but might be hiding flaws because we don't know what it is supposed to look like. It is a fair demonstration of immersive game worlds, which will be one of the big initial uses of VR, so the demonstration is not invalidated by this.

2 days ago

Report: Microsoft To Buy Minecraft Studio For $2bn+

Michael Woodhams Re:Down the Drain (368 comments)

Scenario A:
Notch sells Mojang to a respected community friendly company for a reasonable price of a few hundred million. Mojang's employees and customers are reasonably happy.
Scenario B:
Notch sells Mojang to Microsoft for $2B. Mojang's employees are very unhappy. The customers are fairly unhappy but if they get too unhappy there are clones out there to migrate to, or they can just play the current version without further updates.
Scenario C:
Notch sells Mojang to Microsoft for $2B and gives each of his employees $1M as a present. Notch is still way richer than in scenario A, employees are happier, customers still have the migrate or no updates options.

If I had a cheap effective cure for malaria and a company I didn't trust offered me 10 times what I thought it was worth, I'd likely not sell. But for a smallish computer game company, I can do more good with $2B than any plausible evil that could come of the sale.

However, I am going to download the latest Minecraft development snapshot tonight so as to not miss out on slime blocks should I need to abandon updates.

about two weeks ago

SpaceX Challenges Blue Origin Patents Over Sea-Landing Rocket Tech

Michael Woodhams Re:Learn from History, Please (75 comments)

I've expressed this sentiment as: you should be allowed to patent (non-obvious) solutions, you should never be allowed to patent a problem.

However, my expression of the issue is poorly defined as the problem/solution boundary is not clear. Is the problem "reusing rocket hardware" and "landing at sea" the solution, or is "reusing rocket hardware which is naturally coming down into the sea" the problem and "guiding it to the landing platform and securing it" the solution?

You use "concept" and "implementation" where I use "problem" and "solution", but the boundary issue will still exist. (Which is not to say that we shouldn't try.)

about three weeks ago

SpaceX Challenges Blue Origin Patents Over Sea-Landing Rocket Tech

Michael Woodhams Re:Interesting problem with water landing -- wind (75 comments)

Changing your landing point is very easy - you just slightly change the attitude of the rocket during its retro burn, changing the horizontal component of the acceleration. Changing your landing point to where you want it to be is harder, but the SpaceX people seem to be making good progress on this. (Except that they just blew up their test vehicle...)

about three weeks ago

Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

Michael Woodhams A long list of possibilities (245 comments)

I've been interested in this for some time. Here are some solutions I've come across:
Something like a standard battery
Flow batteries, where you store liquid electrolytes in tanks, and energy capacity is proportional to the capacity of the tanks
Salt/Liquid metal batteries. Take the process for smelting aluminium, and make it reversible. (The metal used need not be aluminium.) There is a good TED talk on this.
Fixed volume compressed gas storage: pump gas into a pressure vessel or abandoned mine
Fixed pressure compressed gas storage: pump gas into a bladder deep under water. This works well for off shore wind farms, as they have the deep water right there. Otherwise you need a convenient lake or flooded mine.
Elevated water reservoir. Needs the right topography and hydrography, so doesn't work everywhere.
Variable output hydro power: similar to the above, but instead of pumping water uphill you just increase/decrease the downhill flow that already exists, to match you output to the production shortfall of the time variable generators. If you already have hydro power, this is very cheap, possibly free. At worst you need to increase peak capacity by adding turbines.
Heat storage: store energy as heat in a large thermal mass, extract it with some form of heat engine.

Complementary to this, we can also try to time-shift demand:
Off-peak water heating. This has been around for many decades.
Off-peak heating/cooling using thermal storage (e.g. an insulated water tank under your house from which your radiators are fed.)
Off-peak charging of plug-in electric cars. (We can even use peak-hour extraction of power from the electric cars.) This is cheap in that those batteries are already there for other purposes. It does cost if they batteries have a limited number of recharge cycles (which currently they do.)

about three weeks ago

Why Do Humans Grow Up So Slowly? Blame the Brain

Michael Woodhams I'm really not buying it (128 comments)

For most species, childhood is all risk, no benefit (where benefit = breeding), and so it is to be got through as fast as possible (or at least in time for next breeding season). If glucose shortage was the only reason for doubling the length of our childhood, there would be a huge evolutionary pressure towards kids who could metabolize much more food and reach adulthood in half the time.

There is an obvious reason why humans have such a long childhood - it is because we have so very much to learn. Little bodies can learn as well as big bodies, and cost less to maintain.

about a month ago

"MythBusters" Drops Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, Tory Belleci

Michael Woodhams Re:No Kari??? (364 comments)

We need way, way, more women like her on TV.

Yes, let's over-represent a minority group on purpose.

Yes, people with talent are overrepresented on TV. Most of us prefer it that way.

about 1 month ago

How Argonne National Lab Will Make Electric Cars Cheaper

Michael Woodhams Economic risk (143 comments)

Some new game changing battery/supercapacitor breakthrough might be just around the corner. If so, all that investment in the battery megafactory could get wiped out. Ditto with investing in lithium mining.

So the megafactory might be still happily minting money 25 years from now, or it might be nearly worthless 5 years from now. Presumably this means we'll be paying a risk premium on lithium and lithium batteries. It seems to me that it would be smart for Tesla to be investing in the very technologies that might disrupt their factory, as an insurance policy. That way, if the fortune you've invested in the factory evaporates, hopefully you'll have a new replacement fortune due to having a stake in the new technology. However, this strategy requires that you have the funds for this speculative investment, and has you encouraging the very research which will ruin your factory investment. (Also, maybe you won't have invested in the right places and won't have a stake in the new technology.) In the case of Tesla, they are major consumers as well as (soon to be) major manufacturers of batteries, so there is an additional up-side to investing in the hypothetical tech breakthrough.

Is lithium mining expanding fast enough to feed this factory when it comes online?

about a month ago

$125,000 Settlement Given To Man Arrested for Photographing NYPD

Michael Woodhams Re:how are cops like bank executives? (231 comments)

From TFA:

“Now we’re going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5 million and get rich, we don’t care,” Lt. Dennis Ferber said, according to the suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

It appears the police followed exactly your logic. However if that statement is substantiated, Ferber's boss would be seriously derelict in their duty if they didn't fire him for this. He's publicly stated that he doesn't care about knowingly causing a multi-million dollar liability for his employer. IANAL, but I expect that should these cops not get punished and pull a similar stunt again, the city would open themselves up for greater punitive damages, as they'd let employees with a known track record of rights abuse continue working where they were likely to abuse again.

It would be good to see criminal proceedings, but I doubt it will happen.

about a month ago

Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors

Michael Woodhams Re:Not gonna happen (111 comments)

Most metals are not ferromagnetic, and so are not held in place by magnets. I'm pretty sure neither indium nor gallium are ferromagnetic.

As they are good conductors, metals do develop eddy currents in a changing magnetic field, which heats them. (Try dropping a magnet through a narrow aluminium tube. The energy loss due to eddy currents will slow its fall considerably.) If you had this liquid metal inside you, having an MRI scan might be a really bad idea - I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the bits of you in contact with the metal could get cooked. This would be a considerable drawback in a cancer treatment. It would be no different than having metal inside you for other reasons - e.g. titanium pins used in surgery. Does anyone know how those react to MRI?

about a month and a half ago

Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors

Michael Woodhams Big lump of dead cells (111 comments)

Aside from the risks of what happens to the liquid metal after it's done its job, you also end up with a big lump of dead cells inside the body, which can't be good. On the other hand, presumably successful radiation therapy has the same result, and the result doesn't have to be 'good', it just has to be 'better than having a tumor'. Would someone with actual medical knowledge care to comment?

about a month and a half ago

Why the "NASA Tested Space Drive" Is Bad Science

Michael Woodhams Re:A little behind the times (315 comments)

No, that is the point. The mathematics is provably wrong.

about a month and a half ago

Why the "NASA Tested Space Drive" Is Bad Science

Michael Woodhams Re:A little behind the times (315 comments)

I agree. The theory can be rubbished in very simple terms: The inventors assume no new physics, and conclude their device will violate conservation of momentum. All the 'input' physics conserves momentum. Therefore their analysis is wrong.

If I give you a list of numbers which are all even and ask you to add them up, and you give me a sum which is odd, I know you've messed up. I don't need to check the details of your adding and point to exactly where you went wrong. This situation is analogous.

So if the device *does* work (which I very much doubt) it will be pure wild coincidence, not due to any cleverness on the part of the inventors.

(Note: these comments are based on the description of the EmDrive in New Scientist some years ago. I am unfamiliar with the Cannae Drive, so I don't know if it has the same theoretical flaw. If it *does* end up working, I will revoke my vow to never again subscribe to New Scientist.)

about a month and a half ago

UK Team Claims Breakthrough In Universal Cancer Test

Michael Woodhams Link to abstract (63 comments)

Here is the abstract. The actual paper is behind a paywall.

"ROC analysis of [the test statistic], for cancers plus precancerous/suspect conditions vs. controls, cancer vs. precancerous/suspect conditions plus controls, and cancer vs. controls, gave areas under the curve of 0.87, 0.89, and 0.93, respectively (P<0.001). Optimization allowed test sensitivity or specificity to approach 100% with acceptable complementary measures."

The ROC curve has area under it of 1 for a perfect classifier and 0.5 for wild guessing. This is a more useful measurement than the p-value. (E.g. if I look at height vs sex for humans, it won't take too big a sample to get a great p-value for there being a difference, yet classifying people as male/female depending on whether they exceed some height threshold is a very poor diagnostic system.) I don't have much of a feel for how good ROC area of about 0.9 is for a medical test. I'd guess it is good enough to be useful, but you'd not want to rely on that test alone.

about 2 months ago

Russian Government Edits Wikipedia On Flight MH17

Michael Woodhams Re:I don't see the problem. (667 comments)

The plane was 10km up. It wasn't shot down by something bought for $50,000 from Bob's Quality Used Implements of Death and Destruction and delivered to you by a courier van. The suspected weapon system requires at minimum one tank sized tracked launcher vehicle, and for full capability it requires three such vehicles. This is way out of Bob the arms dealer's league. Although I'm pretty much guessing here, the missile alone I expect would cost over a million dollars to manufacture.

Having said that, the possibility exists that rebels with military experience seized such a weapon system from an overrun Ukrainian military base.

about 2 months ago

How Did Those STAP Stem Cell Papers Get Accepted In the First Place?

Michael Woodhams Re:Just the scientific method in action (109 comments)

I think you've misread the post. In "What she did was wrong", I read "wrong" as "unethical", "unscientific", or at the very best "incompetent". Your criticism assumes it meant "something which eventually turned out not to be how reality works".

about 3 months ago

Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human

Michael Woodhams Re:Neandertals and light skin (133 comments)

Immune system genes are often under balancing selection - i.e. the rarest alleles are favoured (until, due to this favouring, they cease to be rarest, then other alleles are favoured.) An infusion of new different alleles from Neandertals could be favoured simply because they are different, not because they are evolved to European conditions.

Testing between these hypotheses seems difficult. The 'balancing selection' hypothesis predicts that the genes will readily spread back into Africa, whereas the 'evolved for European conditions' predicts they will not. The problem is that you need some neutral mutations that arose in Europe at the same time as a 'control' for comparison purposes. I'm not sure how to identify such mutations, but I expect it could be done.

about 3 months ago

Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human

Michael Woodhams Neandertals and light skin (133 comments)

There is another obvious point in history where such a gene transfer could have occurred. European conditions favour light skin, and Neandertals had been hanging out there for some tens of thousands of years before modern humans turned up and so had evolved light skin. These newcomers, having recent ancestry in Africa, were probably dark skinned. Interbreeding could easily have introduced the beneficial-to-European-conditions light skin mutations into the modern population.

My memory of the literature (which I have followed just a little bit, not closely) is that this did not happen - genetic analysis shows that modern Europeans and Neandertals acquired light skin through different mutations. However, Wikipedia says this is still under debate.

about 3 months ago


Michael Woodhams hasn't submitted any stories.



In principio erat Verbum.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  about 7 months ago


In the beginning was the word. Biblical, John 1:1. The full verse is
"In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum. "
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."


Ceterum censeo Facebook esse delendam.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  about 10 months ago


Clearly derived from "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" which gets its own Wikipedia page.

This raises the question - how should Facebook be declined? My answer - just don't sign up for it.


quiquid id est, timeo puellas et oscula dantes

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 2 years ago


By web search: "Whatever it is, I fear the girls, even when they kiss."

I can't find a source, but presumably a reference to
Vergil, Aeinid II.49
Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts.


Vos nescitis quicquam...

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 2 years ago

vos nescitis quicquam, nec cogitatis quia expedit nobis ut unus moriatur homo pro populo et non tota gens pereat here.

Biblical, "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." John 11:50 (spoken by an antagonist.)


Meus subcriptio est nocens Latin quoniam bardus populus reputo is sanus callidus

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  about 3 years ago


It seems fractured, but I think
My Latin sig is criminal because I think stupid people are sane and clever.


Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 4 years ago

Quote from Horace, the full version of more common "carpe diem".
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next


Mea navis aericumbens anguillis abundat

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 6 years ago

My hovercraft is full of eels (again).


Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 7 years ago


Translation by Google:
"The more corrupt the state is then the more numerous the laws." -- Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome.

This may be a Libertarian/Conservative catch-phrase.


Navicula hydraulica plena anguilarum est...

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Navicula hydraulica plena anguilarum est. Omnes castelli tuus nostri sunt. Ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.

"Navicula hydraulica plena anguilarum est" = "the hovercraft is full of eels".
"Omnes castelli tuus nostri sunt" = "all your base are belong to us".
"Ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta" = ?
"Words" doesn't recognize enough of this that I suspect it is not Latin.
Confirmed by websearch: It is Dante making a fart joke.


Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum ...

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum

Translation found by google:
"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."


Sic transit gloria mundi; non cum clamose, sed cum illatino.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 7 years ago


The first phrase is famous and googlable.
"Thus passes the glory of the world; not with applause, but with bad Latin."


Armis Exposcere Pacem.

Michael Woodhams Michael Woodhams writes  |  more than 8 years ago

Two quotes in one .sig here

Translation by Google:
"Armis Exposcere Pacem" = "They demand peace through force of arms." (A similar sentiment to "Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant".)

"Scientia non habet inimicum nisp ignorantem" = "Science has no enemies but the ignorant."

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