Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Did the Earth move for you?"

The boys at Al Fin have a hot post up on Google's expressed interest in investing in a geothermal power generation concept.

In comments, I noted:

Wasn't there an incident attributed to DOD pumping irradiated water into deep wells causing tectonic activity in a previously stable region in the news a few years ago?

This includes the following reference to an event in 1962:

"Humans may contribute to the cause of earthquakes through a variety of activities such as filling new reservoirs, detonating underground atomic explosives, or pumping fluids deep into the ground through wells. For example, in 1962 Denver, Colorado, in the United States began to experience earthquakes for the first time in its history. The tremors coincided with the pumping of waste fluids into deep wells at an arsenal east of the city. After officials discontinued the pumping, the earthquakes persisted for a while and then ceased."

It's gonna be difficult to wash the baby if the geothermally heated bath water keeps sloshing out of the tub, don't you think? :)

That's the problem with "virtually unlimited sources of energy", we actually want limits - controls might be a better choice of word - on the energy we use.

Once again (I keep doing this, don't I? I don't mean to rain on your parade. Really), another idea that might benefit from further thought.

Do you suppose Google might even once consider paying for my investment advice?

Nah, me neither.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

This is the day that we as a society have set aside to honor the memory of those of us who died in military service.

For myself, I choose to recall my brief fellowship (though we would not have called it such at the time) with AOAN Daniel Cherry, VA-93 aboard the USS Midway, who's contribution to history and our country's way of life ended on a bad October day in 1972.

I cannot now recall what his hopes and aspirations were, or even my own at the time, but his willingness to meet the challenge of the day, whatever that might have been, remains with me still.

That seems a fine contribution, to me, and a worthy example.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Minute of William, Update the First

Last November I wrote about a precision shooting rifle project I was contemplating. The following January, once the Christmas/New Year holidays were over, I got together with Steve Prater (click on the Our Staff link) and dropped the gun off with the famous last words, "... no hurry, take as much time as you need." Those of you with experience dealing with a busy gunsmith will appreciate my naivete. :)

As I was preparing to go out into the firing area today, what should I see but Steve walking across the store holding a vaguely familiar looking rifle in his hands. If I hadn't been the only person in the direction he was looking, I mightn't have twigged even as slowly as I did.

He reports that the Marlin T-900 "fire control system" (does anybody make a straightforward trigger group anymore?) isn't the worst contraption he's come across and that mine only needed a good cleaning, reduction of the trigger return spring tension and the sear engagement squared up. As I straight away proved, my rifle's trigger now breaks cleanly and I'll take Steve's word for the 4.1# detail - as I fire the gun more, this will lighten up a bit anyway, hopefully to the desired 3.5# pressure.

Mounted on the Millet Angle Loc scope rings was the Tasco 6-24x40mm AO scope I had earlier picked out as being a decent optical starting point for this project. Frankly, this scope was available from Lock and Load's regular inventory, and the mounting rings are Steve's preferred brand, so I wasn't willing to let a few dollars difference in purchase price be my only buying guide. Even if it hadn't been established shop policy not to charge extra to mount scopes bought from the store.

Still to be acquired is a bipod and sling. These guys are touted as being "just as good as Harris". Since economy specifically is one of the metrics of this project, I may give their 6"-9" model a try. However, they're going to have to come off of their $63.95 msrp since Walmart's online sales site offers actual Harris bipods in the same 6"-9" size starting at only $6 more with free shipping via USPS, delivered to my front door if you please.

Of course, it would help if I had some idea what the actual differences were in the various Harris models available (other than price). Why is this model $24 less than this apparently identical model? There's bound to be some differentiation between each of the examples linked, but is that variance of especial importance to a shooter in my circumstance?

As for a sling, Butler Creek was mentioned by several people I asked, but again, which one, if any of these, is best for the KD range shooting application I'm building for?

Since it's not quite finished* yet (and I didn't bring a case to carry it home in), I left the gun in the shop. After I dialed in the scope, of course. :) A 1/4" dia, 5-round string at 25 yards seems a reasonably close beginning from which to start the refining process. With any luck, I'll be able to enlist some help with all of that, come the day.

Oh yeah, I was also still able to put controlled doubles "within the fist" at 10 yards within the 1 second limit (15 yds took a little longer, or expanded to "within the torso":)).

All in all, a pretty good day. How was yours?

* To the extent something like this is ever "finished". :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ok, I'll bite

Al Fin asks the tautological question; "Can the Singularity save us from ourselves?" What follows is by way of my attempt to answer as fully as I'm able, within the limits of my understanding of the issues and concepts involved.

The abstract concept of a Technological Singularity (TS) was made most famous in the recent past by inventor Ray Kurzweil. The concept has several overlapping meanings, but I like George Dvorsky's definition best: The Singularity is a a blindspot in our predictive thinking.

I personally define the Technological Singularity as: The Singularity is that point in human technological development beyond which we do not currently possess sufficient knowledge upon which to base an extrapolative prediction. I certainly appreciate the evocative imagery of Mr. Dvorsky's proposition, not to mention it's economy, but I believe the concept of a singularity is too complex to be adequately captured in such a brief phrase.

For one thing, a TS must be regarded as a moving target. As our ability to understand the technological processes that could lead to a singularity increase, the point in time regarded as being TS onset must be pushed further off into the future. Remember, the TS is that point in our technological development beyond which we can no longer extrapolate a further possible advance (or even say with any assurance what probable effect(s) might result). This doesn't mean we can't guess, of course (engineers even have a technical term for doing so; W(ild) A(ss) G(uess)), but that isn't quite the same thing.

For another, it isn't entirely clear (to me at least) that a TS is necessarily a deliberate objective at all. Rather, it seems to me that TS is a boundary of a sort, and specifically one to be overcome. TS is a useful shorthand for describing current human technological limits of understanding, but postulating it as some sort of objective or achievement is misleading, I think.

The Singularity is most often seen as a threshold into ever-accelerating change precipitated by the development of a machine intelligence with the ability to design its own cognitive enhancement--something of a runaway positive feedback cognitive entity. This development is often referred to as the "tipping point," the point of no return.

Certainly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) whether biological or mechanical is one of the more common examples of a TS. Personally I don't think it any more likely a possibility then a number of other advances. Aubrey De Grey's SENS theory being realised is another example, and one that doesn't require any sort of AI development as part of the realisation process withal.

I do agree that the "positive feedback" you refer to is a necessary aspect to a TS becoming a process rather than an individual event that may occur serially.

Skipping over rather a lot (for discussion another time perhaps):
Rather than a unified, worldwide singularity, expect a "fractured singularity." Some will build the infrastructure and prepare the components in a sustainable way. Most will not. The long-term survivability of TS may depend upon early secrecy. TS may have many false starts, aborted revolutions. Perhaps we can learn from early mistakes in order to build a better singularity?

What do you think?

As I stated earlier, I don't regard TS as an event so much as a process in which we are more or less intentionally involved. I would not be at all surprised if all of what you suggest were to be crucial aspects of TS development at various points of the process. I think it has to be accepted that we simply aren't capable of predicting what activity might be important to progressing towards TS, although certain generalities do seem more plausible than not.

Is TS inevitable?

A qualified "Yes", I think. Since TS is at least a boundary measurement of the extent of our understanding of matters technological, I suggest that the concept is an inherent aspect of human nature.

Is TS necessary?

Is thinking? See above.

Is TS sufficient?

As a mechanism for measuring understanding, I think so.

Is TS the end, or a means to the end?

In light of my previous answers, I think TS is a necessary (or at least useful) tool in the advancement of human understanding and capability.

Can TS save us from ourselves?

Can our hammers or heart monitors? TS is a measure of our capabilities, in it's most refined form arguably of our very selves. As such, it can no more "save us from ourselves" then could any other tool of our creation. In the end, we are responsible for our own outcomes, both individually and collectively. TS is one of our more slippery tools, but one of our most profound as well, I hope.

The last thing humans need now is yet another religion that feeds into apocalyptic visions. We have enough apocalyptic visions as it is without slipping that far into anti-rationality.

What kind of society can give birth to TS, and engage symbiotically and sustainably with TS into the long term? We don't know, but we can give it our best guess. While working on the foundations of TS, we need to work toward creating that kind of society.

What you said, brother.

Update 5/23: This is now crossposted at Future Blogger.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Piece in our time

Via Instapundit comes notice of this latest example of Arnold embracing his roots.

I suggest he call it The Anschluss Party from now on and ditch that old brand entirely. Hope/Change for everybody under the tent!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

mad tek skilz

Several years ago an electrical storm burned out the network chip on my otherwise OK motherboard, so I had an Ethernet PCI adapter card installed and used that for a modem connection point instead.

This past Tuesday, yet another electrical storm burned out the LAN card and I finally made it down to CPU for a replacement card (on the way back from a session at the shooting range - priorities people). Which, as you can see for yourself, works.

I'm on-line again! Yea!

$14 and, as long as I had the case open anyway, ~1/2 a can of Blow Off so the fans might keep working for a while longer yet too.

And to think, once upon a time I kept multi-million dollar airplanes in the air, now I'm all beside myself over a simple plug-in circuit board swap. Except for the lowest bidder price tag, not all that much difference then ...


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not a dry seat in the house

That would be this house, of course.

All I can say is, enjoy it while it lasts stud.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


I'm thinking that my next automotive purchase may not be an automobile strictly speaking.

I've looked through the BRP website and am quite impressed with the Can-Am Roadster. Bombardier Recreational Products, of which Can-Am is only one (SkiDoo, SeaDoo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors are all others), make it explicitly clear that they consider their vehicle to be neither an auto nor a motorcycle, whatever any particular state's licensing stipulations might be. Since they also market their own line of riding leathers, gloves and helmets, they might also look into adding a (weather-proofed, of course) sachet of salt as well. They do have to carve out a niche in the market somehow; keep that in mind the next time you hear someone ask, "What's in a name?".

That bit of snark out of the way, the included video makes it pretty obvious that riding this beastie is a tangibly different experience from the more traditional two-wheeler (can we take it as stipulated that the lack of any doors or roof removes this from the "car" category?). BRP Can-Am has also made a good effort to provide registration/licensing info (See: "Ownership Info" on the "Need to Know" page), but this is still limited to their Phase 1 sales markets as of yet. Texas is in their Phase 2 category, but I already know that this vehicle will require a motorcycle endorsement on a Class C license along with registration and insurance as a motorcycle (and do not drive your new ride to the test yourself; the state trooper who administers the practical driving portion will write you a ticket, if only on the grounds of your having so obviously insulted his/her common sense and general intelligence. I'm just sayin' is all).

However, I see no mention of what I consider an obvious touring option - a twin-wheeled Bob trailer. If the outside width dimension of the trailer tires was ~1" narrower then the inside front tire dimension, this ought to allow for a cargo area of about 3' inside width by - what? - maybe 5' in length? The principle limiting factor would, I suspect, be the top-end weight capacity adjustment permitted by the rear wheel suspension system, although the more serious challenge might be to the Vehicle Stability System and Dynamic Power Steering (click on the "Technology" link from the main product page). For what it's worth, the added braking surface ought to offer a net advantage as some degree of compensation.

I also think a hard-top closure mechanism would be indicated so as to keep down the likelihood of vehicle roll over resulting from trailer overloading. No-one can completely protect stupid people from themselves, but a solid top with no tie-down points provided ought to be of some help, at least. The extended touring (or only the weekly trip to the supermarket/dry cleaners/fill-in-the-blank as appropriate) cargo capacity would also address one of the more common objections to owning an open-chassis vehicle.

Curiously, I could find no reference to vehicle fuel mileage performance anywhere on the website. I wouldn't think the numbers would differ too greatly from other comparably sized v-twin engines, but it does seem an odd oversight if only from a sales hype perspective. For further reading (and other's point of view) see here for a start.

Absent an early installment from my retirement portfolio (what were the lotto numbers last night anyway?), I won't be actively in the market for one of these this year. However, next summer is a real possibility if the current price structure (and my state of employment) holds true that far into the future.

I do remain available should Can-Am wish to promote their fine product by having me drive a complimentary model around the state. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

So, how's that global warming working out for you?

It might be time to give the whole question a re-think.

Which almost certainly means that we can expect a rush of legislation and business ventures to get in on the phenomenon before it fades away from the public consciousness. Not to mention the gradually more absurd efforts to extend the sense of catastrophe/threat the public associates with the topic.

Is there any serious hope that we might realise some positive result as well from all of this? Like, say, wide-spread expansion of nuclear powered electrical generation and water desalination plants along with the infrastructure to distribute or transport same throughout the country maybe?

Well, throughout most of the country anyway. And people ask why I moved to Texas.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iron Man

I should preface this by noting that I haven't read an Iron Man (or any other for that matter) comic since I was 14 years old or there abouts. And when I did read them, they weren't objects of deep study. All that said, I am impressed with how well this movie rings true to those more-than-a-little fuzzy memories of the comic book character. The technology isn't remotely similar, but doesn't suffer from the modernisation either.

I'm not quite sure what movie this guy saw, but I suggest he leave his political agenda at home next time he goes out for some action/adventure movie entertainment. Tony Stark discovers during his ordeal in Afghanistan that his company's weapons are being delivered to our country's enemies. Added to this, a certain amount of psychic and emotional upheaval is only to be expected following such a traumatic ordeal. Finally, the writer needed to present the audience with a source of conflict as motivation for Tony to make such a drastic adjustment from his previous, and obviously very acceptable to himself, lifestyle. Rejection of previous beliefs and business objectives, followed by a gradual process of accommodation to life's realities, is a perfectly plausible mechanism to use to achieve this crisis of confidence for Tony to confront and eventually overcome.

Unlike everyone else in the theater, I sat through the closing credits. "I'm Nick Fury, head of SHIELD..." Can you spell sequel? Maybe I'll have adjusted to Gwenyth Paltrow as a redhead by then. :)

Like almost everyone else, I think this is an excellent movie and suggest you go see it in the theater. The visual effects aren't going to be nearly as impressive on a smaller screen.

UPDATE: Judging by this report we might see a sequel released as early as this time next year. $200+ million from just the opening weekend? Wow! A lot of that timing will depend less upon the principal actor's scheduled commitments then it will on the availability of the computer graphics talent I suspect.

Link via James Hudnall who also links to this topical YouTube video.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Content? What content?

Taking this and this into consideration, I think it a foregone conclusion what my topic for tomorrow will be.

No need to thank me, all part of the service.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where mouth meets money

Via Al Fin's sidebar links comes notice of this announcement:

"In its most ambitious and broad ranging move yet the X Prize Foundation will divide up some $100 million for transformations in biofuels, clean aviation fuel, energy storage, the provision of basic utilities for developing nations, and other categories."

The article goes on to say that an exact formula for dividing up the moolah and how to apply for consideration hasn't yet been determined. Given the X-Prize Foundation's proven track record for honest and reliable push-prize promotion, I can only say that I await further news and developments with marked anticipation. The focus of this effort seems to be on getting targeted invention(s) actually into production and delivery to customers, which is a bit different from the previous X-Prize for space access.

Got a bright idea? Here's your shot at a share of a hundred million bucks.