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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.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

'Star Wars'-style force field technology may be real, too.

Boeing Patents Laser-Powered 'Star Wars'-Style Force Field Technology:

From the patent application:
An illustration from Boeing's "Method and system for
shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc."



Story: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/boeing-patents-star-wars-style-force-field-technology/story?id=29839654

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/23/tech/boeing-shock-wave-attenuation-patent/

http://www.popsci.com/boeing-just-patented-force-field-lasers

Alas:  http://www.wired.com/2015/03/protect-humans-shockwaves/

"Inception" is real.

Scientists Insert a Synthetic Memory Into the Brain of a Sleeping Mouse:
"Scientists are learning how to insert fake memories into the brain via precise electrical stimulation.... In the latest experiment, they gave sleeping mice a synthetic memory.... 
"The researchers first recorded the electrical signals from the mice's brains while the mice were awake and exploring the test chamber, until the researchers identified patterns of activity associated with a certain location. Then, when the mice slept, the researchers watched for those neural patterns to be replayed, indicating that the mice were consolidating the memory of that location [aka dreaming]. At that moment, they zapped a reward center of the mice's brains. When the mice awoke and went back into the chamber, they hung around that reward-associated location, presumably expecting a dose of feel-good."
http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/bionics/how-to-insert-a-memory-into-the-brain-of-a-sleeping-mouse \

http://classic.slashdot.org/story/15/03/10/1840247

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3970.html

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Where did the percent sign (%) come from?

It makes no sense mathematically --- you can't divide by zero.

So why do we show percentages (hundredths) with a mathematically invalid symbol: %  Zero divided by zero?

The interesting Shady Characters The secret life of punctuation blog has an answer. And, as usual, human laziness is the mother of linguistic invention:

Originally written out as per cento (“per hundred”), the phrase was eventually abbreviated to p cento, and then to pco, but written as a stylized symbol made up of a p; a c with a long, sweeping end stroke; and a superscript o.

You can see it here: the circled amount is 10%.



Full story/better explanation:

 Shady Characters The secret life of punctuation: Miscellany № 59: the percent sign


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Irish really were on to something...


Wx Geeks: Inside Boston's record-breaking winter stats

Just about everyone's heard that a minor snowfall this weekend pushed Boston over the top: This is now the snowiest winter recorded, since official measurement began around the time of the Civil War.

The new snow came after a week of Springlike temperatures, and a weekend of rain --- cold rain, but fully liquid --- that shrank the huge snowpiles to something less than the Ice Age dimensions they'd attained.


A city 'snow farm,' where snow removed from streets is piled to melt naturally in Spring --- melting that's finally started to happen. (WCVB.com)

But to me, the total snowfall wasn't the most interesting part: With climate change, 5 out of 10 of the all-time snow records have come just in the last decade or two. Weather is a heat-driven system, and warmer temps mean stronger weather systems. High school physics.

What was interesting are sub-records like these:

By itself, the 30 days Jan. 24-Feb. 22, would have amounted to Boston's third snowiest season ever --- a near all-winter snowfall record, but in just one month.

Boston also set records, or came close, in:
  • Record snow depth in and around Boston
  • Fastest six-foot (1.8m) snowfall ever
  • Fastest 90-inch (2.3m) snowfall
  • Only the third time ever with four calendar days each with at least 12 inches (0.3m) of snow
  • At least 0.5 inch (1.2cm) of snow had fallen 6 straight days; close to a 100 year-old record
  • Most days with measurable snow in a month
  • etc.
But Spring is almost here; It's usually above freezing every day now, so whatever snow falls, probably won't last too long.

More records:

New England Record Snow Tracker: http://www.wunderground.com/news/new-england-boston-record-snow-tracker

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Now *that* is a solid fuel rocket

Today, NASA tested the largest solid fuel booster rocket ever made.

It's impressive as hell. Do yourself a favor: Run this full screen, and turn up the volume a bit. Watch the desert shake and smolder...


Alternate link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts9sFtUSeQE

Story:

The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars. The booster fired for two minutes, the same amount of time it will fire when it lifts the SLS off the launch pad, and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The test was conducted at the Promontory, Utah test facility of commercial partner Orbital ATK.
For more information, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/1C7abZl