unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)

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unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 06:49 pm

A while back, Microsoft dumped a whole lot of outdated DeLorme mapping packages via Amazon for something like $15 each.

Well, sure.  The MAPS go out of date.  But the included GPS receiver doesn't, and the entire principle of GPS relies on having incredibly accurate time sources.  This time source information is available both in the GPS NMEA data stream and via PPS.  Obvious application is obvious.

Well, I've been studying the issue from the Solaris 10 point of view for some time, but eventually concluded that the driver support just doesn't seem to be there.  However, it's a different story on Linux.

Short story?  Using the GPS receiver from the MS package, I now have my own local stratum 0 timeserver.  Subject to system latency (which should be low on this machine, with six 3.2GHz cores), it should be accurate to about ±1µs. With port baud rate turned up to 115200, ntpd reports zero jitter.

...Oh, the mapping software? That went in the trash.  Duh.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Saturday, July 16th, 2011 03:32 pm

I've been playing more with the voice-command navigation, and it's very good.  It got "Parker's Maple Barn, New Hampshire" on the first try, and nailed it.  Likewise "Best Buy Nashua New Hampshire" and "Best Buy Concord New Hampshire".  (I dropped off four obsolete computers and two monitors for recycling today.  Three items per household per day means three items per STORE per household per day, right....?  Since they don't record any information about who's dropping them off...)

The GPS receiver is a power-hungry little sucker, though.  I bought a USB car charger that fits flush into the 12V socket and effectively turns it into two USB charging ports — one of these, which claims to be able to deliver 1A per port — and it was not able to significantly charge the battery between Nashua and Concord with the GPS enabled. After leaving Concord, though, when I turned the GPS off, it managed to charge the battery from 10% to 70% by the time I got home.  This is telling me that the GPS receiver and the Google navigation app together are consuming pretty much the entire output of the charger.  (However, the phone didn't actually die between Nashua and Concord, which suggests that if it starts out charged, the charger will be able to keep it charged with GPS navigation running.  I totally need a more compact cable, though.  This one looks like just the thing.)

I have used, so far, 0.025GB of data in the course of probably three to four hours of total GPS navigation use.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Friday, July 15th, 2011 03:11 pm

I've had it four full days now, and I have to say, it's pretty good. I'm not convinced yet it'll make as good a phone, in terms of voice clarity, as the RAZR2, because the open RAZR is ... well ... more phone-shaped.  I suspect the Droid, like most of not all modern smartphones, will be of limited use as an actual phone without a headset.

Well, that's why I had the foresight to buy a headset with it. An inexpensive, corded one, for now; I really don't use a cell phone very often.  Seriously, we're talking in the region of six hundred minutes or less per year here.  I expect I'll be using the headset whenever possible, and perhaps may eventually get a better headset than the minimalist wired earbuds-plus-inline-mic one I bought to start with.

The screen is nice; large, bright and sharp.  The physical keyboard is pretty good, considerably better than the keyboard on the HTC Merge, previously the holder of the Best Keyboard On A Phone title.  You can actually realistically type on it, and with a pretty low error rate.  (No "damn you, autocorrect".)  Battery life so far seems promising; it looks like I should be able to expect 2+ days from the stock 1450mAh battery, in normal use, and probably about three days from the [optional] 1930mAh extended battery.  Using it for navigation is harder on the battery; the Google navigation works great, but the GPS receiver is power-hungry. Of course, if using it for navigation, one can use the optional windshield mount and plug it into a 12V USB charger, which you'd probably want to do anyway because if using it for navigation without a human navigator/co-driver you'd (a) need it mounted, and (b) need to turn off screen timeout.  I did have to hard-powercycle the phone (power off, battery out for ten seconds) to get the GPS receiver online for the first time.

As for charging, when connected via USB, Gentoo Linux sees it without any hesitation as a 12GB USB-storage device (with about 1.75GB free) and it happily charges, unlike the Motorola RAZR2 it's replacing (which neither mounts as storage nor charges from a Linux box).  There are actually three charging options — direct USB connection, included wall-socket USB charger, or an optional inductive charging pad and back cover.  The inductive charging back will accommodate the extended battery.

The Droid3 comes with the usual Verizon V-cast applications and a bunch of preinstalled apps, many of which I don't give a crap about (like for instance some Mobile NFL thing). Unfortunately few of them are uninstallable.  I uninstalled the WGA golf game immediately (puh-leeze!), and would have ditched the Mobile NFL app as well if I could (I mean, me?  NFL?  Seriously?), but the only other preinstalled apps that appear to be uninstallable are the Youtube app and 'Nova', which has nothing to do with the PBS documentary series but instead appears to be a trial version of a Halo-alike FPS game.  (I uninstalled it too.  I have no desire to try to play anything remotely FPS-ish on a screen this tiny, particularly through a phone touchscreen interface.)  So far, I've installed a GasBuddy app and ColorNote, a notepad app with a reasonably well thought-out checklist feature.

The built-in cameras?  Not bad.  Here's a sample from the main (back) camera (quarter scale, click it for full size):

And here's the front camera, intended for videoconferencing, full size:

(Trust me, it's not the camera's fault.)

Things I'd change?  Well, I wish the corporate sync didn't force a screenlock password on me.  I prefer to choose for myself when I lock it, thank you.  And it'd be nice if there was a display timeout choice between two and ten minutes.  A five-minute option would be good.  Getting the back cover off is a bit of a pain in the ass, but you shouldn't need to do that often.

Oh, hey, I know what I forgot to talk about:  The voice recognition.  Specifically, voice-recognition navigation mode, which was the first thing I tried voice command on.  Untrained, it got "Nashua, New Hampshire" on the first try.  Later, we tried "Go home".  It got that in one try as well, but didn't know what to do with it.  Our street address, it fluffed on the first attempt, but got it perfectly when repeated slightly slower. No doubt it will do even better once I actually go through and train it.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Friday, July 8th, 2011 02:50 pm

C|Net mentions, in their coverage of the final Shuttle mission:

The so-called "flexible path" approach calls for the near-term development of private-sector spaceships to ferry astronauts to and from the space station on a for-profit basis while NASA focuses on designing new, more affordable rockets and spacecraft for eventual voyages to nearby asteroids, the moons of Mars, or even the red planet itself.

You know what the first thing is that NASA should do if they really want to foster development of private-sector orbital launch capability?

NASA should open-source the SSME.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 05:19 pm

Soliciting the wisdom of the collective here.

First, the reasons:

Work issued me a crackberry when I was hired, and I &$@^#^%@%#@ HATE the *@$()*&$#^%^@# thing.  It can reduce me to frustrated rage in mere minutes.  It's an utter mystery to me how in the name of Nyarlathotep Blackberry ever became a commercial success.

I have an alternative.  Work wants me to have a smartphone so they can reach me via email.  But it doesn't HAVE to be a crackberry.  If I buy my own Android phone, on Verizon's network, work will pay for the Verizon service for as long as I work there.

However, if I'm going to buy and Android phone, I want one with a good physical keyboard.  (One of the most frustrating things about the Infernal Device is its almost unusably tiny keys.  It's all but impossible to type on.)  RIGHT NOW, the best physical keyboard on an Android phone is reportedly the HTC Merge.

I've handled one, and it's ... not bad.  But I understand the Merge is a niche phone with limited availability, largely due to unpopularity of the decision to tie it to Bing for search and location instead of Google.  (Have you ever used Bing? It's #%*(&$^! awful beyond words, even when it's filing the serial numbers off of search results from Google.)  Also, by current standards, it's slow and has a small screen.

There's what looks like an even better upcoming candidate, Motorola's new Droid 3.  Faster, more capable, bigger battery (up to 1930mAh), larger screen with 40% higher resolution, larger and more complete keyboard, optional inductive charging.

The catch?

The official available-in-stores date for the Droid 3 is reported to be TOMORROW.

The last day to get grandfathered in on Verizon's unlimited data plan is TODAY.

(This is possibly not a coincidence.)


The bottom tier in the three-tiered data plan that will replace the unlimited-data plan tomorrow is $30, the same price as the about-to-end unlimited-data plan, for 2GB/month.

2GB of *data* per month.  On a phone.  That just seems like a hell of a lot more than I'd ever use.  BUT, I don't know how much data mapping and navigation (pretty much the only data features I expect I'd ever use on it, unless I write mobile-specific versions of some of my own web apps) actually use.

SO.  If you have a smartphone, and you make significant use of mapping and navigation ... about how much data do they typically use?  How much data do YOU use per month?  Assume I won't be streaming music to it, watching movies on it (movies on a sub-5" screen?  That way lies madness), or anything like that.  I'll almost certainly never install a single game on it, and the odds are against me finding a "phone app" I give a crap about, beyond the web browser and maybe a notepad (though an SSH client might be useful in rare emergencies).

How likely am I to even approach 2GB of data usage per month?  I really have no idea how much data usage mapping (likely to be infrequent) and navigation (likely even more infrequent) use up.


Various smartphone users I know elsewhere have reported typical monthly data usage, with fairly heavy data use, typically under a third of a gigabyte.  One responder reports his fiancée's data usage hovers around 1GB per month, which she achieves by more-or-less continuous use of Pandora streaming radio.

So I'd say the odds of me ever needing 2GB of phone data bandwidth in a month are slim to none ... and Slim just left town.  So I see no reason why the end of Verizon's unlimited-data plan should matter one bit to me. (Or one gigabit, so to speak.)

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Thursday, May 5th, 2011 03:12 pm

We've all heard lots of examples of security breaches, most recently Sony's entire PSN gaming network getting totally 0wn3d and virtually every bit of user credential data stolen including credit card data.  Some companies handle it well.  Some handle it poorly.  Sony actually reacted relatively well this time, shutting down PSN until they'd cleaned and re-secured it, publicly owning up to the breach, and notifying all their customers.  After the Hannafords data breach a couple of years ago, RBS Citizens Bank pre-emptively replaced all customer debit cards that had been used at a Hannafords store, just in case they might have been compromised.  (This not only protected customers, it made sound business sense too; it's cheaper to preemptively replace a bunch of cards that would have been replaced in the next year or two anyway, than to clean up fraudulent transactions later and possibly eat losses of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars per card.)

Other companies haven't handled it so well.  I'm not naming any names, but there have been companies which it has transpired have suffered massive customer data breaches and simply didn't bother to tell anyone until they were outed, and other companies that only notified their customers of breaches in states where the law forced them to do so.

Here's an example of doing it right. is an online password-keeper service.  On Tuesday morning, they noticed a network traffic anomaly during routine (for them) analysis of network traffic logs.  They couldn't be certain what it was; but they couldn't be 100% certain that it wasn't evidence of a breach.

So they played safe, and handled it as though it was.

In this case, we couldn't find that root cause.  After delving into the anomaly we found a similar but smaller matching traffic anomaly from one of our databases in the opposite direction (more traffic was sent from the database compared to what was received on the server).  Because we can't account for this anomaly either, we're going to be paranoid and assume the worst: that the data we stored in the database was somehow accessed.

A lot of their customers are complaining about being forced to change their master passwords.  But this is the right way to handle a possible security breach.  If you cannot rule out a breach, you study the evidence you have, you figure out the worst probable case consistent with the available evidence — and then you handle it as though that worst case happened.  Because in the long run, it's MUCH safer, and much less expensive, to assume you were breached and later find out that you were not, than to assume you were not breached ... and later find out that, actually, yes, you were.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 04:20 pm

Coming soon to a fiber near you?  Interesting reading.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 12:48 pm

As reported here, on Marketwatch, and again here, on Techland, Comcast is extorting Netflix and Level 3 Communications to allow Comcast customers access to Netflix content.

"Nice business you have here.  It'd be a shame if anything were to, you know, happen to it."

This needs to be crushed like a bug, and soon.  Level3 made a strategic error in paying the fee at all in the first place.  "Once you have paid the Danegeld, you'll never be rid of the Dane."

unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)
Monday, November 15th, 2010 08:48 pm

"With this discovery, we now understand the purpose of all of Stuxnet’s code."

Symantec claims to have deciphered the Stuxnet worm's payload in sufficient detail to figure out precisely what type of process control systems it actually attacks.  The analysis seems to strongly support the theory that Stuxent was targeted at Iran's uranium enrichment program.  See the Computerworld article here, the H Security brief here, and Eric Chien's original blog post here.

unixronin: Richard Feynman (Richard Feynman)
Saturday, October 16th, 2010 11:54 pm

From November 2006, a Google Tech Talk from Robert Bussard about inertial electrostatic confinement fusion and the hydrogen-boron fusion cycle, along with some interesting commentary on such things as why government programs are actually preventing progress on fusion and why ITER will never work.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Saturday, October 9th, 2010 09:16 pm

The fully autonomous self-driving car is here, being beta-tested by Google.

...Well, OK, they're not quite to the public-beta stage yet.  But this looks as though they've basically got the technology down:

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control.  One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation.  The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

141,000 miles with only a single accident, in which the robot car was not at fault, is a pretty enviable record for most human drivers.

unixronin: Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein (Mad science)
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 02:16 pm

Nope.  It's Frankenbooster, a proposal to get a family of heavy-lift boosters operational fast by reusing Space Shuttle parts.  The low-end configuration mates three SSMEs to a Shuttle external tank, straps two Shuttle solid boosters on each side, and puts a payload capsule atop the tank to lift 70 tons to orbit.  Other proposed configurations lift 100 or 130 tons.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 10:51 am

This is one of several articles I came across yesterday about thorium reactors.  A thorium-fueled reactor turns out to have several advantages over a uranium, plutonium or MOX-fueled one:

  • Thorium is three to four times more abundant than uranium, much safer and easier to extract, and unlike uranium, doesn't require any enrichment — so, unlike uranium, it is all usable as fuel.  As a matter of fact, it's safer to mine thorium than to mine coal.
  • Thorium is not of itself fissile, and requires a neutron "pump" of some sort to maintain a nuclear reaction, so a thorium reactor — particularly an accelerator-driven system — cannot go critical.
  • The thorium fuel cycle produces far less and shorter-lived radioisotope byproducts than the uranium cycle, the major significant long-halflife isotope being protactinium-231.
  • You can't build a nuclear weapon out of thorium, making it "safe" from the point of view of nuclear proliferation.
  • A thorium reactor can "incinerate" plutonium, U235, and other transuranics, providing a safe means to dispose of existing transuranic fuels.
  • Thorium reactors ideally operate at a higher burnup than uranium reactors, performing well at burnup levels over 150GWd/t, compared to 40GWd/t for a typical Generation II uranium reactor.  This presents some engineering design problems, but means less frequent refuelling (and consequently, lower downtime for refuelling) and better utilization of fuel.
  • Thorium dioxide has better chemical and physical properties than uranium oxide; its melting point and thermal conductivity are higher, its coefficient of thermal expansion is smaller, and it is more chemically stable, including that it does not further oxidize.

Looks like an interesting technology that overcomes most of the arguments of both anti-proliferationists and the ZOMG-nukes-will-kill-us-all school of environmentalists.  (Of course, it still won't win over the AAAAAUUUGH-YOU-SAID-NUCLEAR set.)

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Friday, September 24th, 2010 02:58 pm

Cnews is reporting that a University of Toronto student has built and successfully flown a human-powered aircraft with flapping wings.

Look at the video, though.  It can't get airborne under its own power; it gets off the ground only by virtue of a cable tow from a vehicle.  According to the article,

[...] Reichert climbed aboard, flapped its massive wings through a system of pulleys by pedalling his feet, and took off, sustaining altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, and covering a distance of 145 metres at 25.6 km/h.

Um ... no.  That's not what appears to be shown in that video.  What that video shows is Reichert's "Snowbird" being towed aloft, then, after the tether is dropped, being apparently unable to maintain airspeed (though it is admittedly difficult to judge from this angle) and, shortly, altitude after he runs out of airspeed.  I would venture to bet that a half-decent sailplane designed for speeds that low could have glided further from that initial tow than Reichert's craft was able to stay aloft.

My call?  Sorry, but I see this less as a human-powered aircraft, than as an ultralight sailplane that — once towed aloft — manages to stay briefly aloft not because of, but in spite of its flapping-wing mechanism.

Show me a "human-powered" flapping aircraft that can actually take off — even briefly — under its own power, like the human-powered Gossamer Condor, and then I'll be impressed.  But a "human-powered aircraft" that manages to glide less than 500 feet after being towed to what looks like about 20 feet altitude by a car?  Honestly, a 25:1 glide ratio is pretty shabby these days.  That's 1930s glider performance.  Modern open-class sailplanes, despite smaller wingspans and much greater weight than the Snowbird, can achieve almost three times that.  With 32m of wing and so little weight, Snowbird's glide performance should be phenomenal, not mediocre.

It's a start, and it's closer than anyone else has come yet.  But I won't consider it a human-powered aircraft until it can get itself airborne by human power alone.

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Friday, September 3rd, 2010 08:28 am

Via Bruce Schneier:  A team of cryptologists at the University of Trondheim, Norway, have developed a successful attack that works against both currently-deployed existing quantum cryptographic systems, IDQ and MagiQ.

The attack, which allows an eavesdropper (traditionally "Eve") to completely recover all quantum-encrypted data sent over the link, completely invisibly to the recipient (traditionally "Bob"), is brilliantly simple:  Eve simply blinds Bob's quantum detector with a 1mW laser, preventing it from operating as a quantum device capable of detecting single-photon polarization, then intercepts all the entangled photons and reads them herself.  Eve then resends every 1 bit to Bob as a bright laser pulse, which Bob's detector, blinded for quantum events, responds to in classical mode and reads as a 1.  Bob's detector — and Bob — cannot tell the difference.

"We have exploited a purely technological loophole that turns a quantum cryptographic system into a classical system, without anyone noticing," says Makarov.

Quantum encryption has been widely considered, and widely touted as, unbreakable because the laws of physics guarantee that you cannot measure any property of a quantum system without detectibly disrupting the system.  Thus it has been taken as gospel that you cannot eavesdrop on a quantum communication channel without leaving clear evidence that you have done so.  This inspired piece of lateral thinking is a Kobayashi Maru strategy — faced with an unwinnable game, Makarov's team have simply changed the rules of the game to one that they can win.

unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)
Thursday, August 5th, 2010 09:02 pm

SpaceX has made some recent announcements, here reported in Aviation Week, for future plans to extend and develop its Falcon booster line all the way to a Falcon XX heavy-lift vehicle larger and more powerful than a Saturn V, capable of lifting as much as 140 metric tons to low Earth orbit.  SpaceX's propulsion engineers have apparently also urged NASA to resume development of NERVA for manned interplanetary missions, and senior SpaceX personnel have declared, "Mars is the ultimate goal of SpaceX."  There's considerable discussion on the forums at

Some sample images from the SpaceX presentations:

(Copied, not linked, because the original source URL is a nasty ugly PHP thing that make things go all asplody.)

unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)
Monday, July 5th, 2010 01:49 am

The USMC has apparently backburnered the new FN SCAR-L rifle (which would be issued to all riflemen in place of their M16A4s and M4s) in order to free up funds for replacing the M249 SAW, a 5.56mm belt-fed light machine gun with a quick-change barrel that fires from an open bolt to avoid cook-offs, with a new M27 5.56mm heavy-barrel rifle that fires from a closed bolt, has no provision for barrel changing in the field, and currently feeds from a standard 30-round magazine.

Sure, the M27 is reported to be more accurate than the SAW.  But isn't that what rifles are for?  And can the M27 actually put down the sustained volume of fire needed for the support role?

This seems like a generally bad idea to me, for a variety of reasons.  The grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been saying they need more firepower.  As far as I can tell, this is going to give them less.  And the USMC probably wouldn't be planning to hold back one in three M249s if they didn't already have doubts about the M27.

unixronin: Closed double loop of rotating gears (Gearhead)
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 07:25 pm

Per a gizmag article, Audi is experimenting with a new generation of super-high-end car audio systems.  In brief, Audi's new experimental system uses 62 speakers, a trunk full of amplifiers, three controlling PCs, and an advanced technique called wave field synthesis to create a spatial soundfield that not only has consistent stereo visualization regardless of where you're sitting in the vehicle, but can even make sound sources appear to be either inside or outside the vehicle or computationally simulate "any desired spatial impression" — which is to say, EAX for car audio, on steroids.

The system works best with specially created audio media that uses up to 32 tracks, each with spatial information encoded into it, but can reportedly generate dramatically better stereo imaging even from conventional sources.

So when every album you left in your 2018 Audi S12 has evolved into Queen's Greatest Hits, well, at least it'll sound good...

unixronin: Galen the technomage, from Babylon 5: Crusade (Default)
Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 09:18 am

LittleDog goes through its paces.  (I'd embed the video, but experience says LiveJournal will bugger up the YouTube link if I do that.)

Ah, what the heck ...

If this is the correct video on Dreamwidth but the wrong one on LiveJournal, well, something's screwy somewhere, innit?

(Update:  The result — Dreamwidth post, correct video.  LiveJournal post viewed in my journal or on its own, correct video.  LJ post viewed on my Friends page, video is screwed up.)

I, for one, welcome our new walking robotic masters er, servants.

unixronin: Closed double loop of rotating gears (Gearhead)
Monday, May 24th, 2010 12:54 pm

Japanese researchers have discovered that titanium pentoxide can be used as the foundation of a storage medium to create optical disks that could store 200 times as much data as a Blu-Ray disc, while costing about a hundred times less than the germanium-based alloys used to make the data layer on DVD and BD discs.  That's about 9TB on a single optical disc.

Though the article doesn't mention it, a 200:1 increase in data density would also facilitate the development of new optical micro-disks small enough to fit into pocket devices.  A 1" 1TB optical disk would be something not to be sneezed at.

In related news, Hitachi Maxwell has just demonstrated a new tape medium that uses perpendicular recording to get a starting native capacity of 50TB per LTO-class tape.  That's almost four times the capacity of the planned endpoint of LTO tape technology, LTO-8 (at a planned 12.8TB).  For reference, LTO-5 just hit the market this year, with 1.6TB per tape.