Friday, June 09, 2006

Pinkerton Nails It (again)

This is an excellent guide, although I dont agree with all his choices.

The opening minute of Last Action Hero casts Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hamlet. Arnold Schwarzenegger. As Hamlet.

Okay, that's worth seeing, at least once.

Fractal Foolishness

This is *way* cool. Better even than the Hasselhoff Recursion

Winner: The Egg!

Finally! Closure!

"Therefore, the first living thing which we could say unequivocally was a member of the species would be this first egg," he added. "So, I would conclude that the egg came first."

The same conclusion was reached by his fellow "eggsperts" Professor David Papineau, of King's College London, and poultry farmer Charles Bourns.

Mr Papineau, an expert in the philosophy of science, agreed that the first chicken came from an egg and that proves there were chicken eggs before chickens.

The Central Conceit

Brian Dunbar at Liftport send me over a copy of a book they're working for review, and I, for my part, am going to blog my comments. Liftport is a private company working to build a Space Elevator as a cheap, high tech access to space.

So I got a copy, opened it and immediately looked for the section I care the most about: does the physics of this work? Every story I've ever read on this technology (and there is lots, all well documented in the book) has as it's central conceit, some kind of fudge about the strength of materials involved, i.e. diamond hyper- filament, electrosupported nanocarbon tubes, carbon re-enforced Unobtainium etc. Without some really solid physics backing the engineering, this falls into the bin of Things-I'd-Like-to-See-But-Can't-Happen, like a moonbase or a secular government.

But wait, your saying to yourself, wouldn't most people say, "they are a funded company. Surely smarter, better people than you, say actual, factual certified engineers, have worked this out already. Isn't this just your usual physicist-arrogance. If they have raised money, surely the market has validated the approach. What’s wrong with you that you don’t believe anything?"

Most people would say that, but then, most people didn't work for CertCo.

I raised $35M for CertCo in the last year of the company, and now I've been on the other side of funding decisions. While I don't know what Due Diligence was done for the Liftport folks(likely lots), my experiences have me questioning business plan central conceits. Most people *want* these things to work badly enough to … overlook some of the red flags. Maybe they are really yellow. Maybe some breakthrough will happen etc. Don’t know that this happened here (and given this is hardware not software I suspect the level of DD is an order of magnitude higher), but that’s my concern since I also want this to work. The chapter is very well written and comes with it’s own fairly skeptical caveats as well. Very well done.

So this weekend I find myself re-learning some of the stuff I failed to learn around materials science (I got a C+ at Penn State) and, not having access to Mathematica, I am looking things up in The Russians.

In other words, I'm having the best time I've had in months. Thank you very much Brian! I'm rooting for this to work out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A History of This Kind of Thing

Promoted from the comments section of yesterday's post involving sticking birthday candles in the toaster:

Actually, I was using the toaster because I was 4 and had already been punished for playing with matches. The way I figured it though, the toaster was acceptable and a source of much needed fire for the candles on my bear's birthday cake.

Later, when this proved also to unacceptable to my parents, I figured the cigarette lighter in the car would also work. I out clevered myself there though and tried to light a sparkler in the front seat of my fathers 65 Thunderbird. I remember thinking it would be fun to light the sparkler, that the car lighter would work (having been chased off matches and the toaster), I remember pushing the lighter in, watching it heat, touching it when it popped out with the heating element a wonderful cherry-red, touching the sparkler to the element, waiting, waiting, waiting and being totally and completely surprised by the unexpected thing which happened next.
The sparkler lit.
I have no idea why this surprised me since it was the goal of the experiment, but I was so shocked when the front seat of the car being filled with white-hot thermite sparks I screamed and .... dropped the sparkler onto the floor of the car! It immediately went under the passengers seat, hissing and burning the whole time. I was about 4 or 5 and had seen enough tv to know what was going to happen next. The car was going to explode. I ran out of the car, locked the doors and shut them (thinking maybe that the explosion couldn’t get out of a locked car??? I don’t’ remember what I was thinking other than “aahaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!”) and ran behind a nearby tree with my fingers in my ears waiting for the car to explode and trying to figure out what I would tell my father. Fortunately the T-Bird was made of sterner stuff and failed to explode. Days went by while I worried they would figure out what I did (and while I waited for the car to explode ‘cause that sparkler didn’t go immediately and maybe there was a similar delayed reaction with the car). Eventually I got back into the car and found the sparkler melted into the (plastic-based) fabric under the front seat. I fished it out and threw it away and never, ever touched the cigarette lighter again.

Because that was the week my father, the welder, brought home his oxy-acetylene torch…

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

His Own Man

I rarely get inspried by other people's stories, but this one hit me just right. Worth a read.

The Cell Processor

Excellent article in Wiki on the next generation of computer processors. It uses an interesting, multi-node design quite unlike the current generation of RISC processors. It's better at single precision calculation than double (where it takes an order of magnitude hit in performace), so dont expect to see it on your desktop any time soon, but in the world of computational finance, this technology could make huge strides.

Update: In a conversation with a non-technical MSFT person on why this is Bad News for Microsoft.
Mark: "It's like this, Microsoft makes ovens. Ovens are general purpose heating units used for a wide variety of tasks and you dont really know in advance what you're going to ask the oven to do day-to-day. You could heat water, you could broil a roast, you could bake cookies, you could melt pennies on the burners when your Mom isn't home, just about anything."
Dennis: "Okay. Wait... you did what with pennies..."
Mark:"But, you don't make toast with your oven. You could, but you dont"
Dennis: "No, of course not"
Mark:"But you could!"
Dennis: "Yes, but..."
Mark"But you us a toaster!"
Dennis:"Of course"
Mark: "A toaster is a specific purpose machine for making toast and toast-related products. You can't make roasts or cookies or melt anything larger than birthday candles in them."
Dennis, "Why would you put birthday candles in a toaster?"
Mark:"It was an experiement. Thats not important right now. Microsoft makes ovens, but IBM in exploring the Cell design powered by one-off specific implimentations of Linux are making toasters. and microwave ovens."
Dennis:"becuase they are good at a specific function rather than a general one"
Dennis: "Oh! I get it! Oh! Oh! This is not good."
Mark: "No, not for Microsoft in Financial Services, no"
Dennis: "Okay, I get it. "

Cell is a microprocessor architecture jointly developed by a Sony, Toshiba, and IBM alliance known as STI over a four year period beginning March 2001 on a design budget informally reported by IBM as being in the range of $400 million. Cell is a shorthand for Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, commonly abbreviated CBEA in full or Cell BE in part. Cell combines a general purpose POWER-architecture core of modest performance with streamlined coprocessing elements which greatly accelerate multimedia and vector processing applications, as well as many other forms of dedicated computation.
The major commercial application of Cell is in Sony's upcoming
PlayStation 3 game console which is slated to launch in November 2006. It will also become available in a blade configuration from Mercury Computer Systems. Toshiba has announced plans to incorporate Cell in high definition television sets. Exotic features such as the XDR memory subsystem and coherent EIB interconnect appear to position Cell for future applications in the supercomputing space to exploit the Cell processor's prowess in floating point kernels.
The Cell architecture breaks ground in combining a light-weight general-purpose
processor with multiple GPU-like coprocessors into a coordinated whole, a feat which involves a novel memory coherence architecture for which IBM received many patents. The resulting architecture emphasizes efficiency/watt and prioritizes bandwidth over latency, and peak computational throughput over simplicity of program code. For these reasons, Cell is widely regarded as a challenging environment for software development. IBM provides a comprehensive Linux-based Cell development platform to assist developers in confronting these challenges. Software adoption remains a key issue in whether Cell ultimately delivers on its performance potential.


This is a cool shot from over at the Astronomy Picture of the Day of the Cleveland Volcano, taken from orbit by astronaut Jeff Williams on the International Space Station.

It's interesting how even the clouds and fog upwind are rolled back by the pyroclastic force.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Number of the Beast

Today is, obviously, 06/06/06, the number of the Beast. And, not by coincidence, the Beast is publishing a new book today!

Though liberalism rejects the idea of God and reviles people of faith, it bears all the attributes of a religion itself. In Godless, Ann Coulter throws open the doors of the Church of Liberalism, showing us:
Its sacraments (abortion)
Its holy writ (Roe v. Wade)
Its martyrs (from Soviet spy Alger Hiss to cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal)
Its clergy (public school teachers)
Its churches (government schools, where prayer is prohibited but condoms are free)
Its doctrine of infallibility (as manifest in the "absolute moral authority" of spokesmen from Cindy Sheehan to Max Cleland)
And its cosmology (in which mankind is an inconsequential accident)
Then, of course, there's the liberal creation myth: Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
For liberals, evolution is the touchstone that separates the enlightened from the benighted. But Coulter neatly refutes the charade that liberals are rationalists guided by the ideals of free inquiry and the scientific method. She exposes the essential truth about Darwinian evolution that liberals refuse to confront: it is bogus science.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mentos + Diet Coke

Now this is how you do science!

The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments:

What happens when you combine 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints? It's amazing and completely insane.The first part of this video demonstrates a simple geyser, and the second part shows just how extreme it can get. Over one hundred jets of soda fly into the air in less than three minutes.It's a hysterical and spectacular mint-powered version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, brought to you by the mad scientists at

Like I need Another Hobby...

This place is right around the corner and offers both a studio and classes at a reasonable price. I've always wanted to learn to do this (this and metal sculpture). Seems pretty cool...

Seattle Glassblowing Studio