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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

20,000 mph to 20 mph in 10 minutes: NASA video of Orion's scorching return

A new NASA video shows an astronaut's-eye view of Orion's reentry.

The camera is looking up and back, slightly off-center from the plasma tunnel created by Orion's high-speed passage through the upper atmosphere. You can see shock waves form in the tunnel, and grow in size as the atmosphere thickens.

As the heating intensifies, the plasma color runs up the spectrum; at peak heating (4000f/2200c), the plasma is glowing violet.

The ablative heat shield then begins to lose mass, letting its outer layers melt off to carry away some of the heat. As the heat shield material enters the slipstream, Orion's contrail forms a burning orange.

After about 2 minutes, the upper atmosphere is thick enough that Orion can be a lifting body as well as a ballistic object. You can see occasional puffs of gas dissipating as the thrusters fire to change Orion's orientation to start steering it to the target area.

Then comes the rollover and long fall: Smooth at first, but bumpier as the air thickens. You'll see the thrusters start to work full time.

Finally, the eight chutes deploy in sequence, and Orion splashes down.

Looks like a helluva ride.


Props: @charlie3

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Language research uncovers Shakespeare's dirty puns

A few days ago, I posted a clip of Beowulf being read in the original Old English dialect --- it's nearly incomprehensible to modern ears.

In the same vein, research into Shakespearean dialects (just 400 years ago) is turning up some surprises.

For example, some passages which are recited reverentially today were actually bawdy jokes and sexual puns.

The best example, I think, comes from As You Like It:
"And so, from hour to hour
we ripe and ripe
And then from hour to hour
we rot and rot.
And thereby hangs a tale."
An elegant statement about time and mortality, sure. But in the original pronunciation, "hour" sounds like "ore," or "whore," "ripe" like "rape," and "rot" like "rut." The meaning we understand is still there, but the line becomes a bawdy joke — "from 'ore to 'ore, we rut and rut." It must’ve played well to a boisterous, standing-room-only crowd of drunken Englishmen in hose. —Tucker Morgan, Paris Review
More examples, including verses recited in both modern and Shakespearean pronunciations appear in this clip. It's 10 minutes long; if you just want to hear one spoken example of a pun that's been lost as pronunciation has changed, jump to 5:20:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surprising details about the Orion spacecraft

I thought I was more or less up to speed on Orion, the new crew capsule/spacecraft that NASA's been developing.

Turns out I wasn't.

I dunno if my news sources are poor, or if NASA's PR machinery has succumbed to budget cuts, but I was very surprised by a Quora article written by a NASA flight engineer, "What tech upgrades does the Orion ship have compared with those used in the Apollo missions?"

Among the tidbits:

  • The main part of the capsule is reusable for up to 10 flights. The outer skin of the capsule (heat shield and side panels) get trashed in each flight, but the pressure vessel --- containing the crew space, life support systems, command/navigation/communications gear --- all gets reused.
  • Orion is wired like a decent home office: gigabit Ethernet, 120v AC circuitry, and a big uninterruptable power supply: banks of Lithium-ion batteries recharged by solar cells.
  • It has a glass cockpit. There are only 60-some manual switches in Orion, and they're there to ensure that critical circuits can be controlled even if the software-driven controls fail.
  • It uses GPS (among other redundant systems) to navigate in low orbit.

Lots more: http://www.quora.com/NASA-Launches-Deep-Space-Orion-Capsule-December-2014/Its-been-45-years-since-NASA-first-sent-a-person-to-the-moon-Thats-a-long-time-in-technology-terms-What-tech-upgrades-does-the-Orion-ship-have-compared-with-those-used-in-the-Apollo-missions

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Language geeks might enjoy this.

There are real, grammatically correct sentences, with legitimate meanings, that consist of one repeated word or sound. Example:
"Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."
The key in this example is to realize that Buffalo can be an animal, a city, or a verb.

Similar constructs:
"Dogs dogs dog dog dogs."
"Police police police police police."
It's not just English. Spanish:
"Como Como? Como Como Como!"
Some variants allow several words:
"Boston cats Boston-chase Boston mice Boston rats Boston-eat."
French: "Le ver vert va vers le verre vert."
Dutch: "Toen wij in Baden-Baden baadden, baadde Baden-Baden in de zon."
Mandarin Chinese: "Shī Shì shí shī shǐ" and "Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī. Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī. Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì. Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì. Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì. Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì. Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì. Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī. Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī. Shì shì shì shì."

Explanations, and more:
The Most Confusing Sentence in the World Uses Just One Word

A History of the Sentence 'Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.'

Weather buffs will enjoy this

Stormscapes 2 from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Alternate link:  http://vimeo.com/110140870#embed

Story: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/12/10/stormscapes2_nicolaus_wegner_time_lapse_video_of_storms.html

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hear Beowulf Read In the Original Old English: How Many Words Do You Recognize?

Many people think Old English is the language they hear in Robin Hood movies --- an English accent with some thees, thous, and m'Ladys thrown in.

It's much, much older (and much weirder) than that.

Take a listen:

Full article: http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/hear-beowulf-read-in-the-original-old-english.html

Video clip: http://youtu.be/_K13GJkGvDw

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sh*ttiest rocketry launch ever

For reasons probably best left unexplored, the Michiana Rocketry Club decided to equip a 450-lb/200-kilo Porta-Potty with rockets and launch it as high as they could.

They called the event "Thrusting the throne."

Their motto was, "To boldly go where no can has gone before."

Total development time was two years. They built and flew scale models. They made changes. They engineered the details, including a parachute recovery system.

I suspect Michigan's long winters played a role.

But they succeeded!

Here they are prepping the toilet for its moment of glory this past weekend.

The ---pardon the expression --- business end:

The, um, historic flight:

It landed on a car. Imagine the car owner's call to his insurance company.

Congrats to the rocketeers!




Monday, December 8, 2014

Read the comments for Samsung's $40,000 85" 4K-Utra 3D HD TV

Yes,a $40,000 TV, available on Amazon.

Some of the comments are wonderful.Examples:

  • Just cashed in the kids' college funds and dropped them off at the Army recruiting station. I got the TV, they got a career. I think it worked out well for everyone.
  • Take my advice and shop around, people. I bought a twelve-pack of these at Costco and saved a hundred grand.
  • I was going to fund my daughters wedding in Hawaii, but I figured this Samsung TV would last much longer.
  • I am coming back from the future to write this review, and to let everyone know you can buy this TV for $699 in 2015. It still looks great though.
  • This is the best TV out there for watching documentaries about starving children. You can really feel their pain.

The Q&A's not bad, either. Examples:
Q: Is it free shipping to Ireland?
A: Unfortunately, they have discovered that it is actually cheaper to ship Ireland to the television. 
Q: Will the Amazon drone deliver this?
A: Actually, I believe that Optimus Prime will deliver it for you and have Bumblebee set it up for you... 
Q:This more than I make in a year. How the heck can anyone afford this much for a TV?
A: Obviously, a new job is in order for you. Have you considered a career in sales of recreational pharmaceuticals?

Samsung UN85S9 Framed 85-Inch (216cm) 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV: Electronics