Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

A Hole In the Water Into Which You Pour Money

Friday, May 10th, 2013

I never cared about the America’s Cup, which has always been a race for rich guys to compete against each other. But this article on the crash of Oracle’s radical 13-story, rigid-sail driven ship is fascinating from both engineering and failure analysis perspectives.

Post crash footage:

And here’s Mark 2 of the boat, back on the water and hydroplaning:

Like most Oracle products, the ship seems to need a large number of consultants to keep it operating…

Technology Marches On!

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Is your retroincabulator up to snuff?

XKCD’s Time

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

It’s easy to assume that everyone in the world follows Randall Munroe’s geeky online stickman webcomic XKCD, since it seems all my friends do. For those that don’t, last Monday he put up a strip called “Time.” This strip, like his uber-large “Click-and-Drag”, plays with the conventions of the form. “Time” started out with a static, non-gag image with the hover-over label “wait for it.” Since then, he’s updated the image every half-hour to an hour, even though he’s done new strips on the usual M-W-F schedule. If you follow the images in order, “Time” shows two people (which XKCD devotees have dubbed “Cueball” and “Megan”) building a sand castle.

Here’s an animated gif of the images so far:

Here’s a quicker version, which you can also step through, speed up, slow down, etc.

Here’s the explanation page for it, as well as its own Wikia. We now have a real-life version of those people obsessively tracking online image snippets from Pattern Recognition, except we actually know who they’re from.

The obvious metaphor is how time continues to flow and things change when you’re not watching.

As of this writing, the images are still being updated. Munroe could keep updating that one comic for a long, long, er, time, especially if he decreases the update rate.

Conceivably, “Time” could be a long-running conceptual art project and keep updating for the rest of our lives, and beyond, like that German church playing John Cage’s “As Slowly as Possibly” for 629 years…

All Glory [ ]

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Random Google auto-completes that amuse me:

All glory…

  1. …is fleeting

  2. …to the Hypnotoad

Pictures from the 2012 Chicago WorldCon: Friday

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

The obligatory Stina Leicht picture:

Stina was a John W. Campbell Award nominee this year, and she moderated a panel that included Gene Wolfe, Martha Wells, and Joan D. Vinge (below).

After the panel I had lunch with Gene Wolfe, Gary K. Wolfe (below), Gene’s daughter Teri Goulding, and Gary’s girlfriend Stacie Hanes.

Gary ordered the Frank Gehry Sandwich, impressively postmodern and completely impractical.

Alaskan David Marusek:

Laura Ann Gilman. “Smile broadly! Drink heavily!”

Bookseller and Tiger Eye Press publisher Chris Edwards:

Allen Steele.

Jim Minz and Catherine Asaro. I trust you can guess which is which.

James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel and David Marusek. “Look into my eyes!”

Toastmaster and SFWA President John Scalzi:

Apple: The Most Valuable Company in the History of the World

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Today Apple became the most valuable publicly traded company of all time. Not bad for the once “beleaguered” company which has been declared dead more times than pretty much any other company.

Here’s a quick history of the company pre-iPhone:

And here’s a quick visual look at of a few of Apple’s computers over the years:

Attack of the Zune Spam Zombies

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Microsoft discontinued the Zune (i.e., their unpopular iPod clone that, despite coming in brown and being able to “squirt” songs at other people) back in October of 2001. So why am I still getting the same braindead Zune-related comments spam I’ve gotten for the past two years?

“This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace.”

“The new Zune browser is surprisingly good, but not as good as the iPod’s.”

“Hands down, Apple’s app store wins by a mile. It’s a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune.”

My theory is that someone out there sells a ScriptKiddie Comment Spamming Kit that includes pre-loaded Zune comments as the example payload text, and most spammers never bother to switch them out.

Now if I could just figure out why I keep getting comment spam promoting a washed-up rapper…

Dear Google: Thanks Ever So Much for Breaking Attachments in Gmail for Firefox

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Yesterday Google managed to break uploading attachments in Firefox, so that it doesn’t do anything when you click the Attack a File Link, and it’s still broken as I write this. I am not the only one having the problem.

Worse still, Gmail used to have a work-around for the problem, instructing people to go to Settings page and disable “Advanced attachments.” Well, guess what? They’ve removed that setting from the settings page, so you’re just stuck with it being broken.

This may be a simple screw-up, but it follows more user-hostile actions from Google, such as not carrying search strings over from the main Google search to the Google News search, and removing the Google Blog search from both the main search bar and the More menu as well. It seems like Google is trying to make their system less usable to…what? Force them to use Chrome and Blogger? Whatever the reason, it’s extremely annoying.

Updated: As of just after noon today, the upload attachment problem seems to be fixed.

Skynet Now Has Its Own Band

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Flying robot quadrotors perform the James Bond theme:

This was done at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science‘s Vijay Kumar, Daniel Melligner and Alex Kushleyev. The quadrotors are under computer control.

It’s not a particularly good version, but I’m sure they’ll have time to improve before the final enslavement of humanity. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have to write a quadrotor heist novel…

(Hat tip: Derek Johnson)

The Piper Alpha Disaster

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Although I usually let Dwight cover the catastrophic failure front, my visit to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum made me want to discuss something that wasn’t covered there (only mentioned in passing): the Piper Alpha disaster. Piper Alpha was not only the worst disaster to occur in the North Sea oil fields, it’s the worst oil-related disaster ever, with 167 men killed, and is an important lesson in cascading failure.

Also, it blew up real good:

That’s what happens when you start pumping 15-30 tons of natural gas into an existing fire every second.

Because the rig was completely destroyed, and most of the personnel on it killed, exactly how the disaster actually unfolded is unknown, but the official report reconstructs events.

Piper Alpha was originally an offshore oil rig that was converted to natural gas production. On July 6, 1988, technicians took one of two gas condensate pumps offline for routine safety valve maintenance, but weren’t able to complete repairs before a shift change, and thus left a temporary plate in place. Though they had filed paperwork to this effect, the information was not communicated properly to the next shift, and when the other pump failed, the crew activated the pump being repaired. This resulted in a high pressure gas leak when the temporary plate failed, and shortly thereafter by an ignition and explosion.

Though the rig had firewalls, because it was a former oil rig they were designed to contain fire, not explosions. Fire and smoke blocked access from the rig accommodations area to the lifeboats. The switch for the automated firefighting system was below deck and not activated, and the two crewman sent off to activate it were never seen again. The fire got so bad the control room was abandoned and no evacuation announcement was made over the rig’s loudspeakers. The fire would have gone out after the rig’s emergency shutdown switch was activated, except for the fact that Piper Alpha was being fed oil from two other nearby rigs. Worse still, Piper Alpha was still being fed pressured natural gas from two 24 to 36 inch pipes, which melted and burst in the fire, resulting in the huge fireball in the video above. (The gas feeds from the connected rigs hadn’t been shut off, but even if they had been, the lines were so pressurized that it would have taken hours for them to bleed off.) The explosion was so powerful it killed five rescued rig workers and two crewmen on the rescue ship, and guaranteed the complete destruction of Piper Alpha.

Time between the pump being switched on and the giant fireball: 25 minutes.

Only 59 rig workers survived.

Lots of factors contributed to Piper Alpha’s demise: multiple elements of poor design, an inadequate retrofit, inadequate lockout/tagout procedures, and insufficient safety and emergency training procedures. Together they resulted in a devastating series of cascading failures, creating a disaster far more deadly than any single one of them could have produced.

Piper Alpha changed numerous design and safety practices in the oil industry, ensuring that the series of failures that destroyed Piper Alpha can’t reoccur. But offshore oil rigs still remain one of the most dangerous and demanding working environments in the industrial world.