Saturday, January 30, 2010

The iPad

Some folks have asked me what I think about the iPad.  I'm still thinking about it but here's a brief snapshot of what I've thought so far.

Is it the pad device, dare I say tablet?, that I've thought about for decades?  I'm not sure.  My Nexus One fills that niche really well:
  • It's portable
  • I can watch movies and TV.
  • I read nearly everything I read on it.  That can include books, news.  Twitter, email.  Even the dreaded Facebook.
  • I can play an occasional game.  I could even play chess if I was playing much at the moment.
  • My task list and all of my organizational information is on it.
  • It's a fairly decent still image and video camera.
  • I can use it to find the answer to just about any question I can think of and do this many times during the day.
  • It also does a pretty decent job of understanding what I'm saying.  I can type into any input field in any application (a property of the Android OS) by talking to it.
So with all of that, what do I need a pad for?  I think that's a critical question many folks are asking.

About the only thing my phone doesn't do is allow me to type quickly and see more than the small screen of information at one time.  My favorite device for that is the laptop, which has a keyboard, and my favorite laptop is the 13-in Macbook.  (So, Apple hasn't lost my business).

Here's one advantage of a laptop that I haven't heard anyone mention yet:  It holds the larger screen up for you at the most ideal viewing angle.  With this big (compared to a phone) iPad, you have to hold the thing up yourself.  That seems like it would be annoying to me.  I wonder if anyone will eventually complain about that.

It's shocking to me, but I do think the need for any more than caching storage on these devices is on the verge of evaporating.  By that I mean no disk drive and not even a CD or DVD slot.

So, with all of that, I supposed I should prefer something like the Macbook Air  or one of the netbooks.

There's no question about one thing:  Apple is clearly targeting the netbook market.

Here's another thing that I'm sure of.  The nature of using what we call computers has shifted in a major way.  Basically, if you have a working browser, you're pretty much done.  I think this will become more true and, in this sense, the iPad is more than you need.  

Netbooks do fill a niche.  

I think Chrome OS is going to be quite interesting to watch.

Finally, I've read an account or two where people say, yeah all of that seems true until you hold the thing in your hands.  Then, the experience is so amazing and so compelling, you realize that this is something completely new.  I'm not in a position to argue against that and I won't be surprised if its true.  If it is, then like the iPhone, the trail will have been blazed for a new class of device to be built and sold, and less expensive but functional versions will follow.  Even if they aren't quite as amazing.

One more thing:  Convergence.  That is the notion that everything we use, our phone, TV, computer, music player, etc., is evolving toward a single something that is one thing we all carry around.  I've often thought that was true and I haven't dismissed the idea.  It could be, though, that we end up with multiple devices, like we have now but different ones, that serve different purposes.

Regardless of where things are going, it's certainly interesting.  

There's one other aspect of the world that I live in.  The 21st century.  The current world has just about caught up with my imagination.  Granted, robots aren't too common, no one goes to the relatively small space station but astronauts, and there are no off-world colonies where people shuttle off to, work and live.  There aren't any flying cars to speak of.  But, the rest of it is pretty much there.  I'm just about out of expectations now.  I guess whatever happens next will be a surprise.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tethys and Titan

This is an amazing picture of Titan and Tethys!

The Original Newspad

Much to my dismay, I didn't get to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.  However, I read the book in 1970 and  finally got to see the movie when it came back to the theatre in 1971 (and again in 1972).  This is one of my all-time favorite movies.

The newspad, shown here, set part of my view for what such a device would be like since that time.

Is the iPad it?  Possibly.  I'll comment more, soon.

Talk by Wozniak

While perusing iPad stuff on-line over the past couple of days, I came upon this nice talk by Steve Wozniak (co-inventor of Apple with Steve Jobs).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mona Lisa mystery: Da Vinci to be exhumed

What?!  Are you kidding me?  I agree that it's an interesting speculation, but is it this important to try to find an answer?  Good grief.

Mona Lisa mystery: Da Vinci to be exhumed

Or, is it just April Fool's day in Australia?

My favorite line: “They hope to find his skull….”    Yeah, it has been a while…

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Small World

Bobby sent me this really neat video that compares the sizes of worlds in our solar system and some stars beyond.

Deep Fields

Today I was reminded of the Hubble deep field images.

The Setup

The Setup says it's &ldqup;a bunch of nerdy interviews.&rdqup;

Friday, January 15, 2010

New in the Solar System: The IBEX Ribbon

Okay, at least new to us.  As reported in Discovery News:
Last year, NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) made a discovery so profound that scientists had a hard time describing what they were seeing. A vast ribbon located in the outermost reaches of the solar system had been spotted, a structure that had never been seen before. Now scientists believe the shape might be created by a huge reflection caused by particles bouncing off a galactic magnetic field.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Facebook, Twitter and Email

A blog post about Facebook, Twitter and email.

Python for Astronomy “is a community-driven knowledge base for research in astronomy using Python.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christmas Tree Launch

Well, it hardly gets better than this.

Greatest Program

David Horne is not an urban myth. David Horne achieved what many would even now consider impossible. He wrote a chess game, with AI, that ran on a poorly documented, buggy machine that contained only 1k of memory.

The Amiga

The Amiga just lives on!

The Known Universe

This video, The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History, was shown to me by Hal and it's just beautiful.  It reminds me of the short film from the 70s, Powers of Ten.

Okay, I do have to mention a point or two that bother me.  The main one is that the presentation jumps almost immediately and too quickly from the Milky Way to All galaxies we've mapped.  It doesn't really represent our Local Group which includes, along with our Milky Way, two other grand spirals, the Andromeda Galaxy and M33, and then the other dwarf galaxies.  Similarly, it doesn't call attention to our local super cluster or the other nearby super clusters.

For one of the most distant surveys, the data are limited to the wedges shown here (mostly because of the dust in the plane of the Milky Way itself.  But there are more deep surveys that go farther than the edge of the Milky way, i.e., the picture is filled in much better than that.

But, with those points aside, the film is still extremely well done and a nice planetarium show in a video.

How Much Antifreeze?

Someone asked me the other day how much antifreeze you need to prevent engine damage in freezing temperatures.  Okay, that wasn't really the question, it was much more complex, but the basic idea revolved around how much you need to add.

The simple answer, that everyone already knows, is to mix antifreeze and water 50/50.  Actually, as shown here, ethylene glycol in water reaches it's minimum freezing temperature when the concentration is 70% by weight.

However, the boiling point of the ethylene glycol and water solution actually continues to increase, so more is better for (but not necessary) for the prevention of overheating.  In the end the 50/50 mixture should work fine.

But, if you wanted to know the minimum amount of antifreeze to add, it's not simple.

At this page of the excellent site Water Structure and Science by Martin Chaplin, the second plot has the type of information we really want, i.e., how does the pressure in a confined system (e.g. a pipe or engine) increase with freezing.  The text states that pressure can increase to 25 MPa (megapascals) in a pipe of freezing water.  25 MPa = 3625 PSI and = about 246 atmospheres.

What you'd really need to know, to answer the minimum antifreeze question precisely, is (1) what is the pressure at which the container fails (breaks) and (2) what does the pressure vs. temperature plot look like for various concentrations of the antifreeze, in a contained volume.  Then you can choose the concentration where the pressure at the anticipated temperature doesn't exceed the pressure in (1).

The plot is from Water Structure and Science by Marton Chaplin (link cited above).

Age of the Solar System Needs Recalculating

From Wired.

The currently accepted calculation of the solar system’s age is derived from comparing lead-206, a daughter isotope of uranium-238, to lead-207, a daughter isotope of uranium-235.

That comparison relies on knowing the ratio of uranium-238 to uranium-235. Earlier calculations of the ratio all came up with the same number, 137.88. The assumption that the ratio was constant simplified calculations greatly — it allowed scientists to combine both uranium values into a single number, eliminating one variable from the equation. Lead isotopes are easier to measure with high precision than uranium isotopes, so an age-estimation system based only on lead values was thought to be extremely precise.

“Everybody was sitting on this two-legged stool claiming it was very stable,” comments Gerald Wasserburg, emeritus professor of geology at Caltech who was involved in much of the early work in measuring uranium ratios. “But it turns out it’s not.”

Casper Live Aircraft Tracking

Though it's limited to Amsterdam, Casper live aircraft tracking is just really neat.  I've known of similar sites for Atlanta and San Francisco, but not one that's this smooth and well-done.

KISS Programming

This article on keeping it simple in programming expresses something I've thought.  Actually, one might call it a pet peeve.

Herschel Telescope HIFI

From Spaceflight Now.

The Herschel telescope's highest resolution instrument will begin observing the infrared universe this month after operations were suspended in August due to faulty electronics, according to the mission's project scientist.

The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared was built to obtain revolutionary new information on dynamic star-forming regions, galactic nuclei and interstellar gas. HIFI will study the motion and composition of material throughout the universe, specifically hunting for water and carbon by observing a single pixel in the sky at a time.

HD Voice in the UK

This story by Gary Kim in is about high definition voice coming from Orange in the UK.

My question is:  Do we really need HD voice?  Usually, most of my cell phone conversations are quite adequate.  I think we may want to reserve that bandwidth for something else, other data, rather than clearer voice transmissions.  We aren't doing radio shows over our phones.

Star Wars in Strange Places

This is an interesting assortment of pictures.  Some are “found” I'm sure, but some also are no doubt contrived and obviously photoshopped.

These are my favorites.

Civil War At At.

Sleeping Bag.

Catching Up

I like Seesmic on Android, but it doesn't lend itself well to retweeting (the way I do it, which is non-conventional) so I end up just emailing URLs to myself.  Now, that has resulted in a back log of items to share, so I'll try to unload some of those now.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Eclipsed Blue Moon

This image of the eclipsed blue moon at APOD is beautiful!  The gradient of the penumbral shadow makes the moon look three-dimensional.  Not in the true sense of the curved terminator on the moon, but in a “fake” sense of being illuminated by a large surface.  It looks like someone is holding a big white reflector behind the sun, say several million miles across.

Oh, and if you're wondering what the “blue” business is about, a blue moon is just a second full moon in a given month.  Usually there's only one.

Why Twitter Will Endure

From the New York Times this brief essay by David Carr describes what Twitter is, why it's important, and how it works.

Mashable Twitter Guide

The Mashable Twitter Guide.

If you find Twitter elusive or weird, this might be worthwhile reading.

And the Answer Is...Thorium!

This article by Richard Martin in Wired describes how Kirk Sorenson discovered in the works of Alvin Weinberg how Thorium could be the nuclear fission power generating fuel of choice.  Sorenson…

…became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.

When he took over as head of Oak Ridge in 1955, Alvin Weinberg realized that thorium by itself could start to solve these problems. It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.

Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.

In 1965, Weinberg and his team built a working reactor, one that suspended the byproducts of thorium in a molten salt bath, and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973.

SF Sea Lions Found!

The San Francisco sea lions have been found.  Apparently they decided to go to Oregon.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Israeli Security

What Israel can teach us about security.

Palindrome Day

Whether you follow the proper ISO 8601 format  20100102 or the improper format 01022010, today's date is a palindrome.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 01, 2010

I'm Feeling Lukcy

Go to Google and click I'm Feeling Lucky.

The Infinitely Profitable Program

This is a great story about the CP/M days, programming and a program!  The infinitely profitable part is true.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2010!