Author Archives: brenthawthorne

Bush reform has a rocky road

In speaking with several friends who actually watched the state of the union address, I was surprised at how much of Bush’s plan for Social Security reform was unclear.
The numbers being thrown out for the private investment account were varied, and no one was sure how this was supposed to help the Social Security crisis, nor really what was being proposed as a solution for it. None of the numbers I heard match the 2/3 of contributions reported by the AP (Yahoo! News – Republicans Question Social Security Plan). I really don’t understand how diverting 2/3 of in-bound SS funds is going to solve the looming crisis.
Apparently neither do the Republicans. AP quotes Rep. Mark Foley of Fl as saying “I’ve talked to some of my colleagues and they’re panic-stricken.” Hmm. Wonder why.
Reading the AP article on reactions from both Republicans and Democrats, I think this idea has got a steep road ahead of it. At the very least, they need to find some leadership with a clearer vision of how to put in long term fixes, not just sell something that sounds nice to yuppies.

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Go, Google, go!

Google adding major libraries to it’s database!
Google will be digitizing a number of major libraries and making them available on-line. That’s what I’m talking about!

The price of security

The price of airline flight security has taken a steep climb, and one that I’m pretty P.O.ed about.
Since the new TSA rules implemented from the Soviet airline explosions, you will now be subject to groping. And I don’t mean by a wand.
The new rules call for hand pat-downs not only of people setting off detectors, but also of 15%+ of other passengers selected by “visual inspection.”
And I’m not talking about having them check your armpits and leg. TSA checkers are now checking crotch, buttocks, and breasts. Women have been asked to remove their shirts in public view and are having their breast handled.
New York Times: Many Women Say Airport Pat-Downs Are a Humiliation
To add insult, there are not always female TSA available, and they are not necessarily told they can ask for one. There are also reports of typical bureaucratic retaliation for complaints.

So, take your wife for a vacation, and you start it out by watching her being sexually assaulted, in public, to start things off with a bang.

We have a winner!

This morning, Rutan’s group successfully sent their craft into the edges of space for the second time in less than two weeks, well ahead of the deadline required for 2 flights for the X-Prize. This is a huge step forward in proving the commercial feasibility of “tourist” flights into space. Congratulations guys! – SpaceShipOne captures X Prize – Oct 4, 2004

Pulling the Woolsey

An interesting read on the affiliations of former CIA director Woolsey and his wife.

Just How Good is that Compass?

The answer could be that it doesn’t really matter. It turns out that the Magnetic North Pole MOVES by a significant amount each year, and even has fairly drastic daily movement. The closer to it you are, the more the movements will effect you.
Currently, the MNP is just north of Canada, and moving north. In the last century, it has move 1100 km. It averages 40 km Northern movement a year, though it may jump around by as mush as 80 km per DAY.
So, especially if you are in Nothern Canada, or Alaska, you better have maps that are up-to-date before trusting even the best compass too much.

A little late on the Apology

According to AP, today both CBS and Dan Rather apologized for using the questionable documents that were key to the 60 Minutes II story questioning Bush’s Viet-Nam era Guard’s service. Documents that they have repeatedly refused to back down on.
What finally changed their minds? Plummetting ratings, credability scores, and public opinion? It sure wasn’t the experts they hired telling them they were nuts to trust the documents, or they would have changed the story right away.
Now they have brought forward a scapegoat in the form of former Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett. Wonder what he was paid to step up to the plate and “admit” that he deliberately misled CBS. Because of course CBS trusted him over the opinions of their experts, though will only say that the documents were “likely” forged.
I’m not hearing anything to really help with the credibility here.

Who needs binary?

This month’s Scientific American has an article tying many modern advances to Einstein’s work. Okay, pretty cool, though some of what they list is only distantly related to his ideas.
My favorite in set is coverage on the development of a new class of semiconductor that uses the axis of the electrons’ spin to indicate value. Instead of a binary value, you now have potentially infinite value taht can be assigned to a section of electrical flow. If we just assume a process that can discriminate 8 positions, we end up with two “bits” of information that represent 64 different values, instead of the 4 of binary. A vast improvement in information density.
Using these techniques, designs have been presented that will result in chips that can reprogram themselves. An single gate could go from AND to OR to NOR to NAND. Parts of your processor could be re-purposed as needed.
Not only that, but the resulting chips produce less heat and require less power!
Advances have been made that are starting to let this technology be produced on current semiconductor fabrics, which would make conversion very easy for manfacturers. Motorola is already producing memory chips based on these principles, and they have the added benefit of not lossing their data when power is removed.
Okay, Moore, this will give you that next generation of exponential performance growth you predicted. And I can’t wait to see the low level programmers who have mental breakdowns over this. Not that anyone who programs for processor and machine code isn’t already nuts.

Space flight follow-up

The official score for Rutan’s SpaceShipOne:

SpaceShipOne, designed by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, soared to 328,491 feet above Earth on Monday, just a little more than 400 feet above the distance scientists widely consider to be the boundary of space.

And that with a jammed trim tab that the team reported lost them significant altitude.
In speculating on the commercial feasibility of space flight, Rutan commented that a 3 person ship doesn’t cut it:

“It makes an enormous difference to fly six or 10 people,” he said. “Because whether you’re flying six or 10 people, you’re flying the same avionics, you’re flying one pilot, you’re flying the same checkout, preflight and post-flight, and those are the expensive things.”
Bill Sprague, the team leader of American Astronautics Corp., agreed. His team is building a seven-person spacecraft for the X Prize competition that it hopes to flight test by the end of September.
“Our intention is to enter the market as a commercial space enterprise. We’re out to win an industry, not a prize,” he said.

Keep in mind that tourism isn’t the only commercial use for your ships, guys! I’m sure they are, with the vein of the reporting being influenced by what the reporters think will get the public’s attention.
Yahoo! News – Space Tourism Still Appears Long Way Off

Texas Number 1

A news item on NPR this morning has Texas surpassing California as the number 1 exporting state in the country. How long has that taken?
What has finally done it for Texas is Mexico. Exports to Mexico account for over 50% of total.