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$30K Worth of Multimeters Must Be Destroyed Because They're Yellow

Robotbeat Paint them? (653 comments)

Paint them.

about 4 months ago

Elon Musk Talks About the Importance of Physics, Criticizes the MBA

Robotbeat Re:Physics versus MBA (343 comments)

You know, technically they /don't/ hand out Nobel Prizes in Economics... It's just a Nobel /Memorial/ Prize.... ;)

But seriously, if you completed 4 years of a theoretical physics Ph.D. but think your MBA was just as challenging... is there a reason why you were able to complete the MBA is less time (presumably)? It's because PhDs in Physics are harder (and possibly not as well compensated as a similar amount of non-Physics-PhD effort for someone intelligent enough to attempt a Physic PhD). Which isn't to say you chose wrong... PhDs in Physics take FOREVER.

But an MBA hardly gets you a PhD in economics...

In all reality, I agree with Musk, here. Being a physicist (even if just undergrad) gives you a much better leg up on spotting fundamental opportunities for improvement in technology than an MBA does. It really does teach you how to spot fundamental relationships and what really matters in a system, while giving you a broad toolset for general problem-solving.

I doubt you would have had as much of a fruitful time pursuing your MBA if you hadn't been trained extensively in Physics beforehand.

about 8 months ago

6TB Helium-Filled Hard Drives Take Flight

Robotbeat Re:Helium hard drive technology limitations... (297 comments)

"portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades."

Disagree, it's just taking a turn you're not looking at. Solid state has just really started to take off in the mainstream. As the years go on, it will continue to get faster, cheaper, and more reliable. In a couple short years, we've already broken the $1/gig barrier.

After that... Well, it's hard to tell. Many consumers are already running out of things to store on their computers. Heck, I'm in basically the same boat. Even corporations are getting comfortable "big data" setups for reasonable prices. I wonder how much longer until our storage systems get "big enough" for all but the most intense scientific and global data-mining applications...

For a while in the 1990s and 2000s, disk capacity was getting cheaper and denser faster than transistors were. Going to solid-state would mean a slowing of the rate of storage cost reduction (though there was already a slow-down exacerbated partially by that huge Thailand flood), not an increase. Besides, there are some big problems with scaling down the cell size in NAND flash while keeping the same error rate. If a significantly new technology doesn't rescue flash, we could be looking at an end to rapid cost reduction in data storage, or at least it would be slower than Moore's law.

Which isn't to say I'm arguing that spinning disks will out-compete SSD. I expect solid-state to continue to eat away into spinning disk from here on out. Spinning disks have the big disadvantage of basically being up against pretty hard mechanical limits on latency and seek-time while SSD can improve continually in that regard.

about 9 months ago

6TB Helium-Filled Hard Drives Take Flight

Robotbeat Re:Helium hard drive technology limitations... (297 comments)

I'm going to bet that these aren't stand alone drives that you can buy and use off the shelf, but units that are installed as part of a system that has a helium supply.

No hard drive is sealed. Not a single one you own or have ever seen. If they were then big changes in elevation would make them break due to ruptured seals and deformed geometry.

Thus, these drives probably have a port for helium inlet so the internal atmosphere can be maintaned. (It would not take much. I'd imagine)

This is concept is actually not new. I've seen old hard drives that were used in commercial storage systems that had an inlet for an inert gas (Argon I think) The storage system had a supply of gas to maintain the atmosphere inside the hardrive, presumably to control moisture and prevent corrosion.

No drives I've ever owned have ever been back-filled with helium, either. Or have ever had 6TB a pop.

Of course I know drives aren't usually sealed. But I find the idea of an external helium supply completely untenable. No one would buy it except maybe a few people who care nothing about cost and all about looking high-tech. It would increase maintenance and upfront costs while adding another single point of failure to the whole system. Way too expensive for dubious gain.

No, there are two approaches that seem reasonable:
1), there's a diaphram or piston which moves (passively) to maintain ambient pressure inside the device while maintaining a helium-tight seal.
2) the drives are built mechanically to withstand whatever pressure differentials are necessary. The easiest way to do this (for the least mass) would be to slightly pressurize the drive above 1 atm.

about 9 months ago

6TB Helium-Filled Hard Drives Take Flight

Robotbeat Helium hard drive technology limitations... (297 comments)

Helium tends to like to leak out of things. One has to wonder if the power consumption and reliability and speed of the drives will worsen after, say, a decade deployed in the field as the helium gradually is replaced by air. I suppose that has the added benefit for the hard drive manufacturer of a pretty firm drop-dead (or at least significantly reduced performance) date.

But the increased complexity of the technical approach, i.e. cramming more platters (and using fancy technical tricks like using helium) versus just increasing platter areal density, portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades.

Another option may be to operate the devices in a soft vacuum (back-filled with a little bit of helium, perhaps). That may further reduce drag. However, I believe the heads rely on an air cushion in order to avoid contact with the platters, so there would be a limit to this.

about 9 months ago

Without Plutonium, Deep-Space Probe Missions May Sputter Out

Robotbeat Fear-mongering. We are restarting production. (268 comments)

This is fear-mongering. We are restarting production, and the new Advanced Sterling Radioisotope Generators we have developed produce three times the electricity for the same amount of Pu-238. ...that is, if NASA's budget isn't cut by the Republican house. Sequester is really hampering what NASA can do.

about 10 months ago

Can GM Challenge Tesla With a Long-Range Electric Car?

Robotbeat Re:Nissan Leaf (466 comments)


I could live with the low range if the darn thing could be 'filled' from empty in the same amount of time it takes to fill my diesel (which, incidentally, has more than double the range of an S, and rarely dips below 40 MPG).

If I'm not mistaken, the fastest charging method for a Tesla is using one of the Superchargers (assuming they're available in your area - the nearest one to me is more than 1200 miles away), which still takes at least an hour to get an 80% charge... and that's assuming no lines at the "pump."

An hour waiting is bad enough, but if there's 2 people in front of me... that's 3 hours before I can get back on the road. Fuck that shit, I gots places to be.

You can swap batteries in half the time it takes to fill a car with gasoline. Standard for all Model S. You're welcome.

about 10 months ago

SSD Failure Temporarily Halts Linux 3.12 Kernel Work

Robotbeat Re:Sorry Fortunte 500 company, my SSD died... (552 comments)

Linus Torvalds himself is a single point of failure... People who rely on Linux being updated in a timely manner should figure out what the probability of him dying is or suffering a debilitating stroke. Then, calculate if it's worth bribing him not to take part in risky activities, pay for a safer car, etc.

about a year ago

Ask Slashdot: Should More Math and Equations Be Used In the Popular Press?

Robotbeat Re:I just say (385 comments)

I would be opposed to any sort of calculus in an equation for popular press. But algebra? Yes. Algebra makes some things easier to understand.

And YES, it will require a little more mental effort for most people, but mental effort is a good gauge of how much someone is learning. In fact, put both the equation and a sentence explaining it. But algebra is sufficient for explaining the vast majority of physical concepts in a compact form.

Math equations are a language. A language we are all taught from middle school. We can and should use it, and use it clearly.

about a year ago

Ask Slashdot: IT Spending In Engineering?

Robotbeat Ridiculous software licenses? (146 comments)

You didn't mention software licenses. CAD software, modeling software, computing platforms can cost thousands of dollars per seat per year. Stuff like Solidworks or Pro/E or MATLAB are incredibly expensive, I can't imagine that it's stuff like hardware that costs the most. And companies probably ARE spending too much on software. They'd be far better served by having, say, industry organizations commission high-quality software (perhaps open-source) instead of paying the annual Solidworks or Pro/E tax. Unfortunately, this is a big collective action problem. But that's not to say it can't be done!

As much as it's fun to pick on management, they're probably right: Engineering software licenses are obscene.

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:Enough with the "Fake" Flying Cars Already (233 comments)

Complex? Have you seen an internal combustion engine and all the mechanical workings? The advantage of the gas turbine electric hybrid approach is that your turbine doesn't need to change speed much, if at all. In a car or a helicopter or whathaveyou, you need to throttle the engine, and that makes things yet more complicated. In a helicopter, the mechanical complication makes the time between servicings very short. Electric motors solve those problems. Lithium-air batteries (if developed to full potential, in, say, two decades) could provide plenty of power and energy to get rid of even the gas turbine.

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:Enough with the "Fake" Flying Cars Already (233 comments)

Control is definitely a solvable problem, and if ANYTHING has progressed incredibly rapidly, it's computer and sensor technology. Propulsion is solvable, as well. I don't see what's wrong with propellers controlled by electric motors (which have very fast response and very long life).

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:People can't navigate in 2D (233 comments)

There is, in fact, no problem with feeding people in the developed world. It is, in fact, possible for technology to progress and even become widely available without every single problem in the world being solved.

And as far as infrastructure, well, the other replier handled that nicely.

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:Enough with the "Fake" Flying Cars Already (233 comments)

A frog with wings would be a flying frog, not a bird.

BTW, did you bother clicking through to read the article? At least as portrayed, most of the space is taken up by the body of the car. It looks like a flying car, not like a roadable aircraft like the original terrafugia.

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:Enough with the "Fake" Flying Cars Already (233 comments)

Enough with the "Fake" Flying Cars Already - I think everyone is getting tired of these 'flying car' stories, be they on /., Wired, PopSci or wherever.

A Flying Car uses some kind of anti-gravity device. It can float. Don't show me a hovercraft, helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft....

So determined are you to avoid acknowledging that, yeah, this fits pretty darned well the idea of a "flying car" that you'll move the goalposts so now it's only called "flying" if it uses something that currently is physically impossible? So, birds don't really fly either, then?


A VTVL flying car as pictured is definitely a "real" flying car (i.e. we expected the future to look like). There is no misnomer in calling the concept a flying car. It's not an anti-gravity car, but that's why it's not called an "antigravity car."

And this is not terribly surprising that you'd respond that way... Closer and closer to the future we get, the more we'll redefine what REALLY is futuristic, so much so that even once we've "arrived," it won't feel like we have, so we'll move the goalposts further...

about a year ago

New Flying Car Design Unveiled

Robotbeat Re:Life Limited Parts (233 comments)

So, more of a Japanese-style of only allowing tip-top vehicles. Works for them, it could work for us (for flying cars). Also, Terrafugia comes with a full-plane parachute, so you wouldn't "literally drop out of the sky."

about a year ago

Ask Slashdot: What If We Don't Run Out of Oil?

Robotbeat Re:We will (663 comments)

I am a physicist with no stake in nuclear energy. I doubt fusion will be better than /effective/ fission, at least for a very long time (we'd have to get to aneutronic fusion for it to be significantly better). But the good thing is that fission is /actually/ pretty darned good. Fast breeders, traveling wave, and LFTR (especially) offer enormous advantages over current designs. Heck, even more conventional modern designs are much safer. But we'll be stuck with the old ones (or nothing) because even the slightest accident (if judged by demonstrated fatalities, i.e. none in the case of Fukushima!) means the developed world runs away from nuclear power as fast as they can, largely because they don't understand it (physics is hard). Natural gas explosions happen, um, every single day and kill several people every year (and those are just the direct deaths, not counting global warming, etc).

And in spite of huge explosions rivaling or exceeding high-profile terrorist attacks, the world is running in a full sprint /towards/ natural gas. Germany, Japan, the US... Abandoning nuclear and building natural gas power plants. Why? Probably because everyone kind of understands it. People cook with it, heat their homes with it. Nuclear still has the stigma of the Cold War nuclear annhilation, but the irony is that most newer nuclear power plants (LFTR specifically) aren't well-suited to the nuclear weapons industry.

And by the way, nuclear is cheap. What makes it expensive is delays. Delays caused by endless lawsuits of people utterly afraid of nuclear power. And so we CAN'T build new nuclear power plants. Instead of taking 3-4 years, they take maybe 3 decades as construction is stopped by the courts until being given approval to proceed. At, say, 10% interest rate, over 25 or so years that increases the cost by /an order of magnitude/ over what it would be with a quick construction. That is 90% of the reason for the supposed high cost of new nuclear power. This is cited by opponents of nuclear power as reason for why we should oppose nuclear power, but that is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy because lawsuits and political opposition slow down new construction. Meanwhile, we're doubling and soon tripling the carbon dioxide levels. Old nuclear power is cheap, still, because it has been operated for many decades and like renewables its upkeep and "fuel" cost is very low. Which is partly why utilities don't like them, since they have big upfront costs (like renewables) and the lack of fuel costs isn't a huge deal for them since they can just pass that on to the consumer. Both nuclear and renewables have too long of payback periods to satisfy investors wanting 10,15% annual returns. But for an economy growing at a moderate rate, even 5% return is plenty.

There's enough thorium to last hundreds of millions of years. We most certainly won't be the same species by the time we run out of nuclear fuel, and because of the recycling of the Earth's crust, there'll be more available by the time run out. Of course, the easiest to get stuff is still plentiful, and the tiny contribution of fuel costs to nuclear power generation is why thorium isn't looked at more closely. Also, LFTR reactors can burn up our old nuclear waste, so building new LFTRs would actually /reduce/ the long-term nuclear waste. They can burn up all the long-term waste so that only medium-term waste (which decays fairly rapidly, i.e. half-lifes of decades instead of thousands of years) is produced, which we can deal with until it decays to low levels.

That said, I support renewables. An idea I'd like to see more of is hybrid geothermal and photovoltaic power plants co-located using the same infrastructure. Geothermal can act as storage or backing power for when the sun don't shine, and solar makes geothermal last longer. Solves lots of problems.

about a year ago

3D-Printed Gun May Be Unveiled Soon

Robotbeat Re:Supply and demand. (625 comments)

Hardly a valid criticism of my post.

You know, I can't solve all the problems in the world in a single post. Of course socioeconomic factors are huge, but it's possible to, you know, look at an issue and try to evaluate it critically without throwing up one's hands and saying, "welp, since this is only part of the problem, it's obviously not worth anyone's time..."

ANY single factor you try to adjust or optimize will be incremental. It takes a bunch of things working together to solve this problem of murder in this country. You're not helping any by criticizing a valid observation just because it isn't all-encompassing.

about a year ago



Israel considering skynet for air defense

Robotbeat Robotbeat writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Robotbeat (461248) writes "Wired's "Danger Room" section is running an article about a new, increasingly autonomous, Skynet-like system that would be integrated into battle management systems. The original article is on Defense News. Israel is considering a centralized command-and-control system that could take the flesh-and-blood out of the loop in "doomsday" scenarios, such as a massive missile attack from Iran. "[I]n the event of a "doomsday" strike, Opall-Rome notes, the system could handle "attacks that exceed physiological limits of human command." Although the system would initially mostly be composed of improved algorithms rather than on autonomous systems, it will have the ability to operate autonomously. The fact that the Israelis are so worried about a massive attack that they would consider developing what is basically Skynet is pretty scary. Welcome to the 21st Century!"
Link to Original Source



Shuttle retirement could just be simply pushed back

Robotbeat Robotbeat writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Well, the easiest way to get out of this is to just extend the shuttle lives by a few more years. Granted, this will make it more difficult to finance everything, but if this is like a new "Cold" War and access to space is considered a national security imperative, then the funding could be found relatively easily.

There's really no way around this. And, neither presidential candidate wants to lose Florida by appearing to want to underfund NASA, and even more, neither wants to appear weak on national security. I'm not so worried about this. They will find a way.

BTW, I would like to explain to everyone out there a little fact about Russia: Don't be so surprised that the new "New Russia" is so much like the Old Russia. Moscow has gotten used to controlling a vast empire (especially in the Caucasus) ever since right after they decisively kicked the Mongols out of town over five hundred years ago. They don't take too kindly to being treated "with no respect" by the EU and the US, who have expanded NATO right up to the border with Russia. Don't get me wrong, it's not right that Russia is throwing its weight around to intimidate its former-slave-states, but that's politics in Russia (in the rest of the world, too?): It's better to appear evil than weak. I don't really agree with the world-view that all of the democratic movements in the former-Soviet states are merely strategic US moves to weaken Russia, but that's exactly how Russia views it.

Also, don't forget that the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russia's main spaceport) actually is in Kazakhstan, being rented by Russia. The rent is US $115 million/year, fixed. With increased US dollar inflation, Kazakhstan may decide that they don't think the terms of the lease are fair, so they may take back their land, too. This would leave Russia in a spot similar to the US, although Russia does have a second spaceport on Russian soil (and is working on a third for manned launches starting in 2018). Granted, if there was a war going on, I would actually be surprised if Russia didn't retake Baikonur by force if Kazakhstan decided to take back their own land.

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