Showing posts from 2006

Fusion energy; from probability to possibility

from slashdot: "One of the founders of the US Tokamak fusion program, Dr. Robert W. Bussard, gave a lecture at Google recently now appearing as a Google video titled 'Should Google Go Nuclear?'. In it, he presents his recent breakthrough electrostatic confinement fusion device which, he claims, produced several orders of magnitude higher fusion power than earlier electrostatic confinement devices. According to Bussard, it did so repeatably during several runs until it blew up due to mechanical stress degradation. He's looking for $200M funding, the first million or so of which goes to rebuilding a more robust demonstrator within the first year. He claims the scaling laws are so favorable that the initial full scale reactor would burn boron-11 — the cleanest fusion reaction otherwise unattainable. He has some fairly disturbing things to say in this video, as well as elsewhere, about the US fusion program which he co-founded."

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Japan as a nuclear power

The Houston Chronicle has an excellent article discussing the merits of Japan becoming a nuclear power. The author writes:As the only country ever to suffer nuclear attack, Japan obviously has its own reasons to resist the very thought. But now that the lunatic regime next door, which has already overflown Japan with its missiles, has officially gone nuclear, some rethinking is warranted.

Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago — even the once-and-no-longer great, like France; the wannabe great, like India; and the never-will-be great, like North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaida state, and North Korea, a country so cosmically deranged that it reports that the "Dear Leader" shot five holes-in-one in his first time playing golf and also wrote six operas. Yet we are plagued by doubts about Japan joining this club.I believe the author is right in that, if anyone could be a res…

Courage, Loyalty, Humanity, Ruin


Those four words are my distillation of "The Deer Hunter", one of my favorite movies.

If you haven't seen it, it's about three men, best friends - blue-collar workers in a steel town/smalltown-America in the early 70s who enlist to go to Vietnam. Before they go, one of them gets married and all of them (with other friends) go hunting deer in the mountains. This is significant as De Niro's and Walken's characters are defined by this and a later hunt - I'll skip it though. The story is about the heroism of 'ordinary' guys. Heroism at home (one of them marries a woman who is pregnant by another man - he's never slept with her) and heroism in war. Another is sensitive and romantic and yet manages to fit in with the 'rougher' crowd of the town - you can see what they like about him. He's the most human of them all. This is unfortunately his downfall in Vietnam. The other is the one who is always tough, principled, and 'j…

"Her Story"

In quotes because I stole it (the title) from the Economist.

Is there any point in writing this post...whatever.

The Economist has a review on Carly Fiorina's account of her years at the helm of Hewlett Packard and the betrayal of her ouster by the board. So why the questioning on the value of this post? I'm writing about a review of a book I haven't read. That's almost...literary incest. I actually followed Carly through her years as CEO with great interest. I'm very strong on equality although not on any form or philosophy based on affirmative action. You may have noticed from my name that I am part of a visible minority. I know and understand exclusion, injustice, unfairness. My view on these issues in a first-world country are - Tough! Get over it. Yes, I've had many problems linked to my race but I can focus on them and become a victim or on what lies within my 'sphere of influence' (thanks Stephen) and do something to overco…, "long tail" economy, time travel and aliens from Alpha Centauri

In an article posted on the Financial Times site, author James Boyle delivers a humorous commentary on the realities of the "long tail" economy. First, a brief explanation of the term:"The academic in me has been very interested by the much hyped arrival of the “long tail” economy – the idea that the future lies in using the efficiency of the internet to sell smaller quantities of more goods (think of the astounding range of books on One optimistic image is that thousands of small producers and entrepreneurs worldwide will be able to bypass the need for large chunks of capital and complex distribution schemes."He then goes on to describe his experence as a book seller on sometimes imagined the Amazon customer service folk borrowing the Tardis to deliver apologies for their incredibly rare mistakes before they even happened. But that was as a purchaser. As a vendor I entered into a shadowy different universe...

The pro…

Iraq war drives world instability, tensions, creates Jihadists etc.

Holy cow! The elephant in the room has been exposed, and exposed, and exposed. What particularly rankles is that it had to come from the US intelligence community. Why haven't mainline world media been more scathing of the Bush administrations bungling? While it's true that many international newspapers' commentaries on Bush jave been vituperative, journals such as The Economist have been markedly silent in their analyses. Political correctness has won over honesty to the point of stupidity.

Clearly the US war in Iraq was bound to create sympathy among extremists and generate more canon-fodder for the terrorist machines in Iraq and elsewhere. Certainly, Bush's criminal lying about his justification for the war in Iraq are condemnable and deserve the most forceful censure. Most definitely his devestation of an already-devastated country like Afghanistan deserve rebuke. I am personally thrilled to see it come out into the open.

I am in admiration of our nei…

SpaceX press release on NASA contract award

SpaceX, about whom I wrote here finally sent out a press release,"SpaceX was one of two winners of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition. The SpaceX portion of the award is $278 million for three flight demonstrations of Falcon 9 carrying our Dragon spaceship, which are scheduled to occur in late 2008 and 2009. The final flight will culminate in the transfer of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and return of cargo safely to Earth."I really, really hope they make it.

The entire press release can be found here. Unfortunately there's no direct link to the story (dynamic page) but check out the images of their launch and transport vehicles. Very cool.

Vengeance, The Kennedy Curse, The Dark Side of Camelot

Vengeance, George Jonas, ISBN 0743291646I read Vengeance a few months before I saw Munich, the movie on the same subject by Steven Spielberg. The book is better but the movie's not bad. Vengeance has some rough edges unlike Spielberg's creation. Terrorism has rough edges. Vengeance is not a pretty thing. Jonas, in his interview of the leader of the Israeli team of Mossad agents, leads us through the same journey this man, Avner, took as he progresses(was it progress?) from a Mossad agent performing menial duties in what was essentially peacetime to the leader of a team of state-sponsored assassins. Avner tries to convince us, and mostly himself, that what he did was right and that he would do it again. But he does not entirely believe this himself. He is riddled with the guilt of murder and the guilt of having led some of his friends to their deaths. He is a hurting man. One who is a shadow of who he would have been. A man stripped of innocence and of the abi…

Pluto no longer a planet!

In a previous post I discussed the possibility that Pluto's status as planet might be rescinded due to the recent discovery of a larger celestial body.

The Economist writes:On Thursday August 24th a general assembly of the International Astronomical Union, the body with the authority to decide such matters, voted to remove Pluto from the list of planets. Predictably some astronomers are angry and have criticised the system for making such choices. There were certainly problems with the voting. Nevertheless the decision was right.I totally agree. It does not matter what has been historically taught. Sometimes you need to ask fundamental questions based on new information and alter long-held views.

Changing our views is what learning is all about.

More Commercial Space News

A while back I wrote about the disappointing news of SpaceX commercial rocket's failed maiden flight. NASA hasn't taken this too seriously having awarded $500 million to 2010 to both SpaceX and another private company for the delivery of payloads to the International Space Station.

Another feather in the cap for commercial spaceflight!

Brand "Canada"

The Globe and Mail has an article today about how Canada is perceived internationally. Aparantly Canada
... was named the world's second most popular national brand by a global pollster. The Anholt Nation Brands Index for the second quarter of 2006 saw Canada jump ahead of Germany and Switzerland to claim the number two spot on the list of 35 countries. Canada's rosy image now only pales beside that of the United Kingdom's (and the EU's, which was featured as a 'guest country' on the survey).

But Simon Anholt, an international branding adviser who commissions the quarterly poll through Global Market Insite, Inc., contends Canada is failing to capitalize on its positive international image — and points as proof to the gulf between those polled who say they would like to travel, invest and study in Canada to those who actually do."Great but isn't this kind of normal. Sort of like
Gee I sure would like to go skydiving...haven't got around to it ye…

Pluto may no longer be a planet...

The Boston Globe has an article on Pluto's status as a planet.
Some 3,000 astronomers and scientists from around the world will meet in Prague this week to decide whether Pluto, discovered in 1930, measures up to the definition of a planet.
The question arises from the fact that there are a number of celestial bodies of Pluto's size in our solar system that have been found since its discovery. This is expected given the improved instruments that give us a greater ability to study the Solar System. In 2003 astronomers at the California Institute of Technology discovered Xena, a ? (not planet) a little large than Pluto in diameter.

Some have expressed concern that if we downgrade Pluto from planet to asteroid? "it would disappoint children and throw our understanding of the universe into chaos". Oh my gosh - maybe my children will suddenly develop anxiety attacks, have nightmares and start wetting their beds. Or maybe they'll wonder if they too will be d…

Cosmic Log : Bigelow's orbital 'baby'

I'm not sure how seriously to take Bigelow Aerospace or their Genesis spacecraft but it is one more example of how the private sector has gained unprecedented access to space (even if it is low earth orbit). This will lead to greater innovation in low-cost spaceflight and may result in commercial enterprise making the moon, asteroids, and Mars viable investments before any government does.


» Smart displays and user productivity | Paul Murphy |

Smart displays do work and with companies like IBM, SAP, and Oracle driving more and more of their product development dollars into the Linux platform, the day is coming when you will find them in Fortune 1000 companies.

Open Source applications like add incentive for organizations to consider migrating some desktops from Windows to thin client. It reduces administration cost, is more secure "out of the box", and costs less from a desktop application standpoint.

There is a caveat, however. They require a certain level of expertise (UNIX) to set up and administer - the kind usually found in engineering companies, which explains why that is primarily where they are found. Every time I read about it I get the urge to call Sun and ask for a demo unit for my company's IT department.

Maybe this time I'll take the plunge...

Read more

NASA engineer fired for opposing Shuttle launch

The New York Daily News reports
"Charlie Camarda has been bumped from his top NASA engineering post for backing colleagues who questioned the safety of Saturday's planned space shuttle launch, NASA officials said yesterday. Camarda's removal heightened the turmoil over NASA Administrator Michael Griffin's decision to take the "acceptable risk" of launching the Discovery orbiter despite warnings of potentially fatal blastoff debris."The Challenger Disaster was a case study in my engineering ethics course in the late 80s. It was attributed to NASA's command-control political environment that ignored warnings from engineers about the o-ring's susceptibility to failure in cold weather conditions. In the Rogers Commission, Richard Feynman (a prominent physicist) pointed out "the discrepancy between management claiming a 1 in 100,000 chance of serious failure and the engineers claiming 1 in only 100".

I am sorry to hear that Camarda was remove…

Formula 1 Weekend

Formula 1 weekend in Montréal is not about watching a bunch of cars going round a track 71 times.

This is my second F1 and certainly not my last. Daniel, one of my sons, and I started the weekend together on Friday. Here's a shot from ourseatingg at the Senna curve, Grandstand 10.

The day started of with the Civic challenge. It may not seem like much but it's a lot of fun watching the civics take the turns and see their tires lift into the air. As well as seeing some F1 practice sessions, a number of Ferrari F430 owners brought out their cars. These cars are built specifically for racing on a special line at the Ferrari plant. The purring of the engines sends shivers down your spine. It was quite a competitive race with a few spin-outs at our curve and some accidents but no injuries.

Sunday's Formula 1 race was fantastic! Alonso started in pole with his team mate right behind, Raikkonen in third and Schumacher in Fifth.Alonsoa ran a near-perfect race with just one miss when …

Technology News: Cutting Edge : Microsoft Developing Robotics Software

Great. Now we can look forward to real crashes as our robotic vacuum cleaners experience blue screens of death and terrorize our pets and small children while in a robotic psychosis.Or what about when my robotic lawn mower is infected by a worm from my jealous neighbour who then takes control and mows over my wifes flower bed?We will no longer have only zombie PCs to contend with but will be facing a world of zombie robots, doing the bidding of their evil hacker masters while we sleep.I shudder to think of the chaos and mayhem Microsoft is about to unleash on the world. Read more at

Another Internet Explorer flaw allowing evil hoards to hijack your PC!


The blog entry title is tongue-in-cheek as there really is another flaw in Internet Explorer 6 that allows a remote attacker (aka bad guy) to take over your PC. What can they do once they've done this? Oh, how about installing a keylogger that logs each and every keyboard stroke you make as you, say enter you bank account number and password for your on-line banking site. Then it sends the accumulated data to the bad guy. Sounds bad? It is. What's worse is that Microsoft typically knows about these bugs for weeks before issuing a patch.Stop using IE and start using Firefox. They also have vulnerabilities from time to time but patch critical ones with 24 hours. Compare for yourself:


Google Junky

I am a confessed Google junky. It's true.

I have been using Google Search since I don't know when - a long time (in Internet Time). I got my Gmail account about one year ago and am now a sworn Gmailer, having rid myself of all my other personal addresses. Since then I have created this Blog (older entries migrated from Movable Type), installed Google Desktop Search on my laptop, and use Picasa 2. Of course I use Google Local / Google Maps as well.

Why! Why? you shout and ask (as is clear from all of your comments on my Blog). Google's applications work and they work well. They are also free. Can you beat that?

Of course there is nothing stopping Google from letting the POWER go to their heads and developing a form of Evil Empire Syndrome (the virus mutates and once you're infected the only cure is to divide the empire [sometimes even this doesn't work]).

Books, books, books


I'm reading a couple of books I'd like to briefly review.
Fortunes of War, Stephen Coonts, ISBN 0312969414If you're looking for the answer to the meaning of life don't look here...anyway we all know it's 42.

I really enjoyed this book. His description of what it would feel like as fighter jet pilot in a dogfight with cutting-edge technology aircraft is cool. The plot hangs together fairly well and is somewhat believable although consisting of a 'perfect storm' of events including a Russo-Asiatic conventional war on the brink of conversion to nuclear war. Character development is lacking but that is clearly not the focus. This is simply a thriller to be read quickly. Take it on an airplane or business trip - it will really eat up the hours. Do not, as I did, read it in bed. I am still recovering from sleep-depravation.
Future: Tense, Gwynne Dyer, ISBN 0771029780Gwynne Dyer is one of my favourite war historians. If you saw his public television…

What a thrill! How disappointing!

This afternoon at 2:30 PM Pacific Time the Falcon 1 rocket successfully lifted off from it's launch pad at SpaceX's Kwajalein launch site on Omelek Island. This is the first commercial / private venture to get payloads into LEO (low earth orbit) this year and higher over the coming years. I opened my browser at 5:00 PM to monitor the webcast and tried to concentrate on work while I listened to the microphone chatter from 'mission control' in the background. I didn't want to miss the 5:30 PM launch. I was nervous. As they counted down the last few seconds my heart-beat increased making me wonder what this lucky bunch of entrepreneurs must be feeling. Lift-off was right on time! The webcast cut from a ground-based camera to one mounted inside the vehicle looking down through a glass portal. When the webcast failed seconds into the launch it seemed as if all was going well. I later learned that the launch vehicle and payload were lost. What a …

A Tribute to Einstein

I'd like to comment on some of Einstein's quotes over the following weeks. Why? He was a thoughtful man.
"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -— this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth."
If you subscribe to pleasure as an end in and of itself, although somewhat opposed to Einstein's thinking you remain in famous company. You feel much as the Marquis de Sade.

The Cell Processor and Octopiler


I am going to talk about an area in which I consider myself pretty much an idiot - computer programming (my wife says I shouldn't call myself an idiot and she's really smart so maybe there's something to it). I have written C (anyone remember Borland Turbo C?), 68000 assembler, and Clipper programs but that's the extent of it (and clearly also a long time ago) so don't exepect great depth and insight.

I'll tell you why the Cell is significant after I first tell you what it is. The Cell processor is made up of one 64-bit Power Architecture core and 8 additional CPU cores called Synergistic Processor Units or SPUs. The SPUs are built to handle computationally intensive applications like video or signal processing, and cryptography among others. Here's what the chip looks like:

IBM designed it in partnership with Sony and Toshiba. The Cell's first application will be to power the heart of Sony's new gaming console, the PS3, which is due o…

More High-Tech Investments Move Overseas

The US continues to farm out jobs overseas as Intel announces plans to invest $300MM in Vietnam:

Intel Corp., the world's largest chip maker, said it would invest $300 million to build a factory in Vietnam to package and test microchips that power personal computers and mobile phones.

It marks the biggest investment in Vietnam by a U.S. company, and Intel has an option to double its investment in the country.
Jobs are moving overseas but mostly those at the bottom of the food chain. Research is still primarily done in US companies and universities. Offshore research has the same challenges as offshore coding - communication and cultural challenges result in only non-core work being pushed out of North America. Better get on top of the food chain if you aren't already. The shift of jobs is not likely to stop anytime soon.

Global Economic Imbalances

In today's Globe and Mail, an article entitled "Dodge warns of global imbalances" discusses comments by Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge where he states: imbalances, such as the record U.S. current account deficit and the ballooning surpluses in some Asian countries, are persisting and if not corrected could result in "periods of outright recession."

...An increase in domestic savings in the U.S. could slow the global economy "sharply" unless there's corresponding growth in demand outside the U.S., he told Caribbean central bankers in Bridgetown, Barbados.

"Such a slowdown in growth, in turn, raises the risk that policy-makers might resort to protectionism," he said. "In that event, a period of very slow growth could, perhaps, be punctuated by periods of outright recession."

...a sudden disruption in the economy will be especially hard on those countries with very open economies, Mr. Dodge said — includi…

Space Travel Goes Mainstream

Last year, The Ansari X-Prize $10,000,000 purse was awarded to the SpaceShipOne team for being the first commercial enterprise to put a man in space and bring him back to earth safely, twice in quick succession.

Since then, a new enterprise has been born, the Rocket Racing League. From's article:
Launched last October by Whitelaw and Peter Diamandis, whose Ansari X Prize awarded $10 million for the first privately built manned spaceship in 2004, the Rocket Racing League, or RRL, has already flown a prototype rocket plane and is now building the first of 10 planned X-Racers. Three-time space shuttle astronaut and former Air Force test pilot Rick Searfoss, who serves as RRL's chief test pilot, called the rocket racers "a real kick in the pants" after a test flight in October. Searfoss compared their performance characteristics to those of fighter planes because of their high thrust-to-weight ratio.

The promise of that kind of flying excitement is…

"Kodak Digital Sales Outpace Film for First Time"

The Globe and Mail is reporting today that Kodak's digital sales were greater than film product sales for the first time in 2005.
Digital sales accounted for 54 per cent of total revenue for the year, marking the first time in the company's 125-year history that digital exceeded traditional sales.
For those of us old enough to remember, Kodak's name has been synonymous with film and photography throughout our lives. Today, many of us will not attach the Eastman Kodak brand with imaging at all which speaks to how rapidly digital photography has taken over from film-based, even though it's only been available to the consumer since about 1994!

Old Style Managers On The Way Out?


These two comics are in February's issue of The Harvard Business Review and demonstrate the thinking of some that old style managers are on the way out.

Are they? There is more talk these days of extending mandatory retirement ages than of ousting experienced managers. Time will tell but...well, the first guy's just a bit of an exageration isn't he...although come to think of it, I used to know a guy just like him...:-)

North America's Impending Loss of Economic Control

The writing is on the wall.

While Americans and Canadians worry about offshoring and the resulting loss of jobs, there is another and far greater threat: the loss of control over the economy. In an earlier post I discussed China's rising prominence in the computer and electronics manufacturing sectors. American companies are also losing marketshare on other fronts. Ford has just announced a plan to cut 30,000 jobs by 2012 in order to reduce its financial hemorrhaging. In an article entitled "Ford's latest Rebuild" (subscription required), the Economist reports:
"Bill Ford, chairman and a scion of the founder’s family, is particularly concerned that Ford is losing out in its biggest and most important market, America. This week he revealed a plan imaginatively dubbed the “Way Forward” that is supposed to cut losses and win back favour from American drivers. He pledged “sacrifice at all levels” to ensure “sustainable, profitable change”. The firm will…

First They Killed My Father

This is an excellent book about a five year-old girl's recollections of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Loung Ung, the author and woman who was the girl, describes her family's flight from Phnom Penh to the countryside where they hid their identities for years. Were the Kmehr Rouge to discover of her father's position in the military as a police captain for the incumbent government it would have resulted in his and his family's death or imprisonment. As they move from village to village and their family is divided they cling more and more tightly to each other. Her world constricts to the immediacy of mother, father, brothers, and sisters. You feel her pain and anguish as she works through her memories of the hardships and horrors of her early childhood years. The narration is factual and almost unemotional at times as she describes the brutality she and her loved ones endured. Her memories are, I believe, coloured by the vision of a five year-old who…

When Will Microsoft Release Office for Linux?

When will Microsoft release Office for Linux?

We are seeing some sporadic reaction from governments around the world to Microsoft's practical monopoly on both personal computer desktop operating systems (Microsoft Windows) and desktop productivity software (Microsoft Office). The government of Peru put forward a bill in 2002 that was passed into law in late 2005 encouraging government institutions to use Open Source Software:
"...Basically, we can say that the fundamental principles that drive the present Bill are tightly related to the basic guarantees of a democratic State and we can sum them up in the following:
Free Access of the citizens to public informationPerenniality of public dataSecurity of the State and of the citizensTo guarantee the citizens' free access to information, it is indispensable that the coding of the data not be tied to a sole provider. The use of standard and open formats guarantees this free access, making possible the creatio…

The Dumbing Down of America

While the citizens of rising economies like India and China are getting more and more educated, North America is dumbing down.

According to an article in the Economist, high tuition levels prevent 40% of qualified high-school graduates from attending 4-year programs and 22% from attending college at all. This while India has doubled its university student population since the early 90s and China's PhD recipients have jumped from 14,500 in 1998 to 48,700 in 2003 (see article)!

Technology companies like Intel, Microsoft, AMD, and Cisco are investing billions in the Indian economy. Not only is labour cheaper than in America but it is also a highly educated labour force. Instead of whining about the loss of jobs, North Americans need to take education seriously. It starts with the government and translates into, among other things, more investment in universities and student support programs with lower tuition fees and favourable lending policies. Traditionally, many immig…