Archive for January, 2010

Spaced out

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Not quite the witty title I wanted, but it fits the theme.

I missed this story when it came out, but it’s newsworthy because it’s a very low-probability event: a 14-year-old boy was struck by a meteorite last year.

Next, we have a claim that space aliens may not be friendly. Is this news to anyone? Besides peace-and-love-and-crystal-harmony types, that is? It’s not like there haven’t been books and movies addressing the topic before. Given the history of war between different tribes and nations, why would anyone presume that aliens would necessarily be peaceful?

One quote from the article is worth a little discussion:

Some scientists are puzzled as to why no messages have been sent back even though humans have been transmitting radio and television signals for the last century.

That’s actually a pretty stupid thing to be puzzled about. First, that would require another intelligence within 50 light years, and further presumptions that:

  • They received the broadcasts and recognized them as a product of intelligence immediately.
  • They deciphered them immediately.
  • They decided to send a response immediately.
  • They had the equipment available immediately for sending that response.

Just coming up with some simple points for each of the above:

If they’ve got equipment to receive us, they’ve probably got equipment to send back, so that’s not necessarily a big objection. They may have reasons for not wanting to use it, or to broadcast at the necessary level to reach us. Then again, perhaps they have already responded to us, and we didn’t recognize it as a response, because it’s using a technology that they expected us to develop in the meantime.

It’s probably moot, though. A few months ago, I read an article that said that our broadcasts would sink into the background noise within some distance that I don’t remember, but was shorter than I expected. I couldn’t find a link to it to put in this post, but I did find this, which makes the same point. We do have equipment that can pull signals out of the noise, even if the noise is louder than the signals, but in that case, we know what kind of signals we’re looking for. That’s a lot different than, “There may be a signal here. It may be hidden below the level of the noise, and we have no idea what it looks like.” Searching for it in those conditions is a good recipe for ongoing employment, but not necessarily for success.

It may be moot for another reason, though. Technology marches on, and the changes and improvements have side effects. When I was younger, I used to see billboards across the southwest for radio station XERF, broadcasting from just across the border in Mexico with 250,000 watts of broadcast power. They were in Mexico because, among other reasons, it freed them from FCC restrictions on broadcast power. My understanding was that atmospheric skip meant that they could be heard across most of the US, at least at night. Recently, I’ve been hearing about low-power FM and neighborhood radio. Lower-power signals means a shorter propagation distance before it falls into the background noise.

In the early days of personal computing, back in the 1970s, I read about how some people were using AM radios to debug their programs: the switching frequencies of the digital signals in the computer fell into the AM range, so tuning between stations would let you hear a series of shifting tones that related to what the application was doing. In the days when some people only had lights and switches for I/O, that could be an important diagnostic technique. Nowadays, computers operate well above the AM range. They take less power (sometimes absolutely, sometimes merely relatively) than they used to, as well. I work in the field of embedded computing; Intel’s 80188 processor, which used to be popular for the purpose, consumed 800 milliamps if you were using the NMOS part. The MSP430 from Texas Instruments can require as little as a couple microamps. That’s not going to generate much in the way of radio signal.

So, I guess what I’m saying here is that it’s pretty unlikely that aliens shot the rock at the kid.

Miscellany 6

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

I was not aware of the aftermath of the Roswell UFO incident.

Everybody knows about “Heinz 57,” right? Do you know what the Heinz 57 are?

I think I’ve got a whole new set of objections to hymns now.

I had read that California is doing this. I hadn’t realized the Feds are following suit.

And this is just unbelievable. I wonder how long it took to get from the starting point to here? It’s obvious that Pelosi doesn’t consider global warming and carbon footprints to be a problem. As Glen Reynolds says, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who claim it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.

“I got tired of misplacing my cellphone, so …”

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Jobs with iPad

” … I asked the boys in the lab for a solution.”

Ignorance shouldn’t be a verb

Friday, January 29th, 2010

It shouldn’t be a position or a strategy, either.

I recorded the SOTU last night, because I wasn’t home to watch it live. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t watch all the way to the end. I left the room before it was over, telling Marion that it was all lies and misrepresentations, and I couldn’t handle it any more. Gerard highlights a comment here that expresses my opinion pretty succinctly. I won’t be going to Mass about it, though … I’m not Catholic.

Our current President is actively ignoring reality in favor of continuing with his chosen agenda.

  • Not-so-subtle digs at global warming – excuse me, climate change denialists, ignoring the damning CRU data dump and other recent revelations.
  • Saying “we’re so close” to passing the Senate healthcare bill that we have to continue, ignoring the fact that a Republican won “Ted Kennedy’s seat” by promising to oppose it.
  • Talking about continuing earmark reform, ignoring the 9000-odd earmarks in the stimulus bill.
  • Complaining that the recent Supreme Court decision will allow foreign corporations access to our political process, ignoring the fact that on his campaign website, the default, standard checks had been deliberately disabled, thus allowing effectively anonymous donations to his campaign from around the world.
  • Calling for bipartisanship when the Democrats have shown that their idea of bipartisanship is that Republicans should vote for bills into which they’ve had no input.

And I would have been absolutely horrified, if I thought he had any idea about how things operate in the real world, when he said that because of our current budget woes, he was going to freeze portions of the federal budget next year, because “that’s how budgets work.”

Really? So, if I’m in debt now, with lots more money going out than is coming in, I should keep spending at my current levels this year, and next year, I keep my spending on movie rentals and lawn service at this year’s levels? That’s how budgets work? I don’t think so.

There are other things I could mention (cap & trade, energy, proposing budget cuts that will, over the next ten years, save about one month’s worth of our current budget deficits, and so on), but I have better things to do. This isn’t a website people come to for news and political commentary. I’m actually not sure how many people ever come here, to be truthful – I don’t track visitors.

The bottom line is that we have an arrogant and supercilious fool in the office of the President, and he’s lying through his teeth to us in order to enact changes that he knows the American people don’t want, and I’m sick of him.

This is going to bother me for a while

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Now that televisions are digital and flatscreen, is there a mellifluous phrase to replace “boob tube?”

On this day in 1969 …

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Tommy James and the Shondells performed Crimson and Clover on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Now, aren’t you better for knowing that?

No? Didn’t think so. Can’t say it does much for me, either. And I like 60s music.

A professional of thesis sample

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

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Two from Probably Bad News

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

I think there should have been more thought given to this headline. Or less. Whichever.

I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening before, when someone started using his dog’s name to try to bypass junk mail.

This is creepy

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

The London Kensington Holiday Inn now offers a human bedwarming service if you’d rather not deal with cold sheets.

I’m going to stay away from the obvious comments and just say that I find it to be a creepy offering. I don’t want my bed warmed by anyone I’m not in a relationship with. Why bother with clean sheets in the room, otherwise?

New toy

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

I just upgraded my cellphone. I’ve been using a Blackberry Pearl for a couple of years, and although it was nice enough, I was getting frustrated with it. I’ve now got a Motorola Droid, and I’m liking it a lot better. I’ve already decided that it’s got its own set of annoyances, but they’re different, and there are two things that the Droid does that I find to be much better for the way I do things.

First, you have to deliberately put the Blackberry Pearl into “ignore the buttons” mode; the Droid does that automatically and must be unlocked to operate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve inadvertently dialed someone because my reading glasses or a pen pressed against the Blackberry keyboard.

Second, the Droid does GMail and the web so much better than the Blackberry Pearl that it’s an entirely different experience.

It’s also got a host of features that the Pearl doesn’t. Marion is quite taken by the map capabilities, especially the GPS information that enhances it. In any case, I’m having a grand old time learning what it can do.