NPR’s “Planet Money” is very often very interesting, but something on their Nov 27 broadcast about “hoverboard” design and manufacture caught my interest especially: at about 7:25, they talk about how Shenzhen’s small, agile factories don’t keep their designs as trade secrets. Instead, they make them freely available, so that their [potential] customers can easily see if the factory’s products will work with their design, or how it might be altered to work better, or for incorporation into their design from the get-go. Also, because their peer factories are also publishing their designs, a factory can design its products to incorporate or interoperate well with the products of those other factories. Also also, you can pull good design elements in from other factories’ designs, just as those other factories can pull in elements of your factory’s designs and make their products incorporate or interoperate well with your products! Interesting to hear the “bazaar” model of an open marketplace of free designs operating at such a large scale!
Today the sun rose at 06:55. I rose at 07:15, being one of those morning persons who madden the folks who go to bed at 03:00, by which time I’ve been conked out fo[u]r hours. Yep, even being one of “those people”, I still missed the sunrise (and that’s normal for me).
Yet, today’s sunset… it’s at 16:53! The “day” closes before the banks do! Now, this crazy skewing of things isn’t because western California is geographically displaced from the reference meridian: high (“solar”) noon here is 11:54. If we’re only 6 minutes displaced from solar time, how come there’s so much more daylight in the morning than the evening? It’s because our standard “business hours” are shifted away from the center. Starting a working day at 09:00 and ending it at 17:00 has three hours before noon but five hours after it. If we shifted our clocks so that solar noon was ∼13:00 (which is what we do for the majority of the year which has DST in effect) then things would be more sensible: about four working hours before solar noon (09:00 – 13:00) and about four after it (13:00 – 17:00). The sun would have risen today at 07:55 and set at 17:53, and wouldn’t everyone be happier with that? Why don’t we just have “daylight savings time” in effect year-round? And then we’d also get the bonus of not having to move our clocks an hour twice a year. And of not having motorists on the roads with an hour less sleep than they’re used to on that one day in spring where DST starts and traffic accidents spike — which, come to think of it, is a far more important reason to quit doing a semiannual time change.
“So, what’s the news?”
“Nothing much. The ship with Bob Ritchie and Lori Walton’s bodies arrived on Earth, so they’ll be getting put to rest.”
“Ah hah! I had my fingers crossed this whole time. We’re saved then!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, you know I have the secret battle station plans, and I performed Bob and Lori’s autopsies…”
“So, what good is that? This may be the most advanced bio lab this side of Tau Ceti, but even you can’t grow a hypernode transmitter in a vat, and you can’t smuggle 100 exabytes of secret plans in a pair of corpses–”
“– I can and did.”
“What? They put those bodies through a full nanometer scan before letting them through. If there were a single molecule which didn’t belong in a human, or even the right molecules in the wrong place, that’d pick it up. And even if you get a few through, the holographic encoding of the plans means you have to smuggle all 100 exabytes or it’s useless as none of it.”
“But the scanners don’t check the DNA.”
“Sure they do. If the body’s cells don’t have the right amount of DNA in the right place, or if there’s extra DNA in the wrong place, that’ll cause a red light.”
“I meant they don’t check the DNA sequences.”
“Well, no. Everyone’s is different, and no one is going to smuggle DNA, it’s thousands of times cheaper to make it yourself, even if you have only the most rudimentary equipment.”
“The makers of the scanners weren’t thinking about smuggling information. After all, hypernode is going to be faster and cheaper than any ship. But when your enemy has control of all the hypernodes… Well, there are 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. Each cell has a copy of that genome. And there are 50 trillion cells in the body. And this equipment can replace each cell’s DNA with a unique sequence. Those plans are written into their nuclei, redundantly many many times over. And when Earth checks their DNA against the stored records for identity verification, they’ll discover sequences which aren’t human, and don’t even match any lifeform whatsoever.”
“So, we’re going to be rescued by a pair of corpses, which you turned into digital media…”
“Yes, we’re saved by the stateful dead.”
I seem to be bereft of interesting prose to spout, so here’s a link dump instead.
Witness some software management failure recorded in a bug log.
Growing up in postindustrial Wales.
How the Dutch got their bike paths — they fought hard for them.
African development’s killer app: Cell phones.
When I read about someone putting the pin in a dropped grenade, I think “Why is he doing that? He’s going to die! No, this didn’t happen, it’s just made up by a hack who doesn’t know how grenades work.” Congratulations, you just destroyed the immersion in your story. Similarly for a grenade exploding while still held pending the throw, or a thrown grenade with the spoon still against it (for graphical media).
No need to trek through the snow to the library, research is now as simple as visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_grenade from the comfort of home, yet curiously, this seems to be a disease of newer works, despite older works having hand grenades in their stories if anything more often.
So, evidently there’s a need for a primer for writers. Here goes:
Anatomy of a hand grenade: The body of a grenade is a shell containing explosives and a timed fuze. Against the shell is a lever called the spoon, which is connected to a spring-loaded trigger called the striker, which starts the fuze. A safety pin holds the spoon in place.
Operation: Hold the grenade in your throwing arm, pressing the spoon against the body. Pull the pin. Throw the grenade at your opponent. With the pin removed, the spring will now push the spoon away and the striker starts the fuze, which in a short time will detonate the explosive.
Note that the fuze can’t be stopped, and it’s the spoon which triggers the grenade, not the pin. So a held grenade can be re-safed by replacing the pin, which might be the seed of the myth that the pin will deactivate a cooking grenade.
Daniel Huffman has produced some interesting maps of the US’s major river systems, done in the style of intracity rail line maps. I especially like the one of the Columbia’s system.
He talks about generating these river maps here.
Naturally, he has other interesting things to say about maps, such as a discussion on projection conformality.
Centuries ago, we lived in ignorance, our vision dim, not even knowing what we didn’t know. Now and then some people struck sparks as we stumbled in the darkness, and saw something others had missed.
But, on this day, a man was born who was to kindle a torch and connect heaven and earth.
Though his work and teachings, he changed our worldview forever. He revealed truths and laws that mankind had had no conception of before. He turned our old notions upside-down with a new understanding of the heavenly realm, and of the world on which we live. His teachings have stood the test of time, still being taught, analyzed, and widely used in practice to this very day. The great thinkers of later ages have taken what he revealed, and built magnificently upon it, each generation using the work of the previous to go further.
Happy birthday, Isaac Newton!
Not my usual day, so perhaps postworthy.
Last night I tried to head out to Hollywood, but my car wouldn’t start. Didn’t even do the “rrr-rrr” thing, and I verified I hadn’t left the lights on. So much for hitting the nightlife, spent the evening online instead. This morning was my annual physical, including a cholesterol test, so I was fasting that evening/this morning. I didn’t sleep well, woke up at 5 o’clock, had trouble getting back to bed and my alarm woke me. (Usually I have no problem sleeping and I wake on my own before the alarm.) The physical went fine, weight stable, no alarm bells, the doctor gave me cream for my athlete’s foot and probiotics for my GI. Get home, call Gabriel Towing, they refer me to Hillcrest Towing, who say they’ll be there in 15 minutes, and 15 minutes later they’re there. Amazing, I’m impressed, I’ve never had a tow come promptly before. Go to Subway for a lunch to break my fast (any “healthiness” of their sandwiches likely lost by me opting for the drink & cookies, ’cause I’m hungry). Bike around southern Pasadena, a light rain starts, I get twisted around by the twisty streets around Oak Grove and Oak Knoll. It’s a lot harder to navigate under low cloud cover, can’t see shadows or the mountains. Go home, wet, and the dealer says the non-hybrid-system engine battery bricked, looks like I’m out around $200 for repairs and towing.
A friend of mine called this time of year the “hectic holidays”, and it’s absolutely correct.
I love the getting together with my family, the Christmas feast, the time off… But the gifting is very stressful. It’s hard to pick out gifts for people, it’s hard to ask for gifts, and shopping is a huge pain: Even when you know what you want to buy, going to retail stores right now is an exercise in frustration. And then the effort is wasted because they’re out of stock!
How many people can we get together under the idea that Christmas is better off without the gifts, so we can focus on nobler ideals. Can we make Christmas a holiday that’s not about commerce, but a celebration of our brotherhood with our fellow man?