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Transformative technologies

Revolutionary Rocket Could Shuttle Humans to Mars

VASIMR VX-200 Plasma Engine:

A novel plasma engine could slash travel time to Mars — now approximately three years — to just 39 days.

By Steve Nadis|Friday, April 18, 2014

Traveling to Mars is not easy, which may be why no one has ever tried. It would take a good six to nine months to get there with today’s chemical-fueled rockets. Along the way, according to a 2013 study, you’d get dosed with the radiation equivalent of a whole-body CT scan every five to six days, increasing your lifetime cancer risk above the limits set by NASA. Upon reaching the Red Planet, you’d wait up to two years for Earth and Mars to be at their closest before your return trip, which would last another six to nine months. If the cosmic rays didn’t get you, the long layover might.

But what if there were a better way — a new kind of rocket that could transport you to Mars in less than six weeks?


Growing up in Costa Rica, [Franklin Chang] Díaz became fascinated with all things space in 1957, when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. He was 7 years old. Eleven years later, he secured a one-way plane ticket to the United States and arrived in Hartford, Conn., with just $50 in his pocket. He barely knew a word of English. He stayed there with distant relatives to attend high school. After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut, Chang Díaz enrolled as a graduate student in applied plasma physics at MIT, where he began research in nuclear fusion.


To Texas, and Beyond

After receiving his doctorate degree in 1977, Díaz continued to investigate his rocket concept, while maintaining his interest in space itself.He was accepted as a NASA astronaut, on his second try, in 1980. When his training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston got serious, he found it difficult to keep up the monthly commute to MIT, so he moved his rocket laboratory to Johnson. He went on to fly seven shuttle missions, logging more than 1,600 hours in space over the next few decades, all while maintaining an active research schedule, devoting time almost every day to work on his rocket engine.

Díaz retired from NASA in 2005 to form Ad Astra, his rocket company.


Ad Astra’s 20-foot-high structure [in Webster, Tex., a suburb of Houston] is tucked behind a Japanese restaurant and flanked by a Brazilian steakhouse and a tattoo parlor. Its drab, gray facade blends in with the parking lot around it. The building’s interior looks like typical open-plan office space — until you pass through a set of double doors and enter the laboratory. That’s where you might notice something out of the ordinary: a metal cylinder, 15 feet in diameter and 35 feet long, big enough to drive a school bus into. The cylinder is a vacuum chamber that simulates conditions in space. Inside lies a smaller vacuum chamber — about the size of an MRI machine — that contains the rocket’s magnets.

[SNIP of lots more, including cool diagram and photos]

Setting sights too low

Sorry Paul, but I disagree.

Who cares that government sponsored space settlement is a bust? Did you really expect anything else?

And frankly, who cares about the moon and Mars? The hard bit is climbing out of a gravity well, and having done that why dive straight back down another one?

Space settlement won’t become viable until it can become profitable, and hunkering down on Mars will never achieve that. Hell, there is all that lovely mass just floating around up there, all in free fall, just where it will do the most good, and we are worrying about settling on a desolate and dead arse end of the universe like Mars? Come on now.

We want O’Neil habitats by the hundred. Imagine, Babylons 5, 10 and 20 by the score, scattered throughout the solar system, mining both the Trojans and Greeks in Jupiter orbit. Building fifty five dozen civilizations in the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. One single proto comet would feed a respectable industrial civilization for centuries, and there are trillions of them between here and Proxima.

You think we couldn’t make a start on this, today? We got the technology to start on this right now, we just need the incentive.

Asteroid mining to provide the raw materials for manufacturing in orbit, that’s the place to start, not dicking around with Martian settlements.

Bugger Mars, the Moon and Titan.

I don’t believe you want to do that Dave…

Well it would appear possibly, arguably, a computer at the Royal Society in London has passed the Turing test.

Read the whole thing. It is interesting. Alas I seem unable to copy and paste from the Guardian otherwise I’d dissect this because I am less than impressed. It would appear they haven’t released the transcripts. And it was impersonating a 13 year old boy. All very fishy. Certainly it ain’t as tough a test as proposed by Kurzweil. This had to be believed by 30% and got 33%. The Kurzweil test is much more rigorous.

Oh and Prof. Kevin Warwick was involved. Hmm…

My fave comment though on the Graun is this (I seem to be able to copy those)…

For a moment, let’s just forget whether and why some computer might pass the test and what that might mean. Suppose instead you wanted to decide whether a human is intelligent… What criteria would you apply? What rigorous and material or empirical definition could you come up with for “intelligent”? Or for “thought”, “objective”, “emotion” or any other noun relating to individuals inner lives for that matter?

Of course there’s no real definition for “intelligent” that doesn’t rely on other abstract nouns, e.g. if you decide it’s “problem solving ability” then you only shift the question along to “what’s a problem, then?”.

But we all agree as a linguistic convention that there is such a thing as intelligence and that humans possess it. But if that’s true and a computer and successfully disguise itself in some open-ended way as a human then we’ve no grounds for denying the title of “intelligent” to the machine.

You may still deny that this has any metaphysical significance. On the other hand, you can’t deny that in that hypothetical the computer has transcended your ability to distinguish it from other entities you agree to be intelligent. That makes the machine categorically distinct from all others in history, at least from your perspective and is surely a significant fact in itself. Without the Turing test, you’d be stuck in a quagmire — what the test does is isolate this significant observation from all metaphysical or linguistic confusion, reducing the matter to observable behaviour.

In the end, it’s a definition of intelligence. Do you have a better one?

No, I don’t but I have never felt sure about the Turing test in general – and yes I have read a lot about it. Does it have agency? Does it have imagination? Can it make mistakes? Mistakes are important for creativity. They seem to me to link tightly with creativity. I have for a long time thought it is probably in principle to compare genuine thought with the perfection of computers in a way almost analogous to quantum complementarity. I have no idea why I feel this except I feel it which perhaps is the point. I also tend to think the Turing test is just too instrumentalist. It in a sense doesn’t get to the heart of consciousness. It’s Searle’s Chinese Room. It is sort of a search for pure empirical proof without theory.

I never trust pure empiricism without theory. I think that might have been Eddington but I can’t track it down and I am writing in a rush. There is a saying (a joke really) in the AI biz about whether you can take it apart with itself? And that is the problem. Can we really understand ourselves properly, scientifically? I feel it is an impossible task and more to the point pointless. Shakespeare couldn’t predict comets arriving but he knew humanity better than any trick-cyclist. Just look at Freud. Or Kinsey or any of those preverts. I’ll believe in the Turing test when it can explain why I love Donne’s 20th elegy but can’t stand Tennyson’s romantic musings. I’ll leave the last word to Albert Einstein…

It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.

The Overhead.

The Internet c.1800s...

That was the semaphore system built by Claude Chappe in France around the time of the French Revolution. If the idea of big semaphore machines connecting a nation (indeed internationally) reminds you of the “Clacks” on Discworld then you are in the right ball-park – almost. There is a key difference which we shall come to though and it is a biggy.

Anyway, this is the size of the network…

... and its reach.

Now here is the big difference. What is the modern, electronic, internet as we know it used for? It is a chaos of chatter and (in)sanity, logic and weirdness, bank transactions, Christmas greetings, pornography, blogging, tweeting, facebook, gaming, terrorist plots and how to build a bomb or how to cook a risotto. It can be anything from an interview with One Direction or a seminar on quantum entanglement. It is humanity in toto.

The French clacks wasn’t (that is the “biggy” I mentioned) and neither could it technically be nor was intended to be. The inventor had this rather disingenuous thing to say,

“Chappe once claimed that a signal could go from Toulon to Paris – 120 stations across 475 miles – in just ten or twelve minutes. But he could not make that claim for a full message, even a relatively short one. Three signals per minute was the most that could be expected of even the fastest telegraph operator.”

In modern terms that is 1/20 bit per second (roughly – the Chappe code had a signal space of 98 symbols (2 beam positions and 7 positions each for the “arms” = 2x7x7=98) which is near enough the size of the standard 7 bit ASCII code – 128 symbols – to compare with allowing a bit of wiggle on human factors). Difference is the first common(ish) home modems worked at like 2000 bps or 40,000 times that speed. Sending a signal as simple as, “Advance at noon, reinforcements will meet on your left flank by 1pm.” would be nightmarish. And that is assuming absolute accuracy in transcription at all stations along the way. It need not be said that 2000bps is dismal. A slow ADSL line is over a thousand times faster and if BT Reach-Around has deemed fit to bother with laying fibre even ADSL on Cu is laughable. Sky (my broadband, TV and landline provider keep on trying to get BT to get us into the C21st – to no avail so far). There are always BT vans prowling and doing nowt. I’m not surprised. I used to work for BT and trying to get them to do anything to the porpoise is like assaulting Broadmoor with soft fruit. They might technically be private but they still behave like a state monopoly. Utterly complacent Bertram Blunts plus ultra.

Anyhoo, back to those old French folk. Not only was the system technically very limited (in that it was fast but with abysmal bandwidth) and therefore unsuitable for general communication but it was never intended for such use. Chappe again,

“…took it for granted that the telegraph network of which he dreamed would be a department of the state, government owned and operated. He saw it not as an instrument of knowledge or of riches, but as an instrument of power. ‘The day will come,” he wrote, ‘when the Government will be able to achieve the grandest idea we can possibly have of power, by using the telegraph system in order to spread directly, every day, every hour, and simultaneously, its influence over the whole republic.”

Chilling but not a million miles away from how our Lords and Masters see the internet. Fortunately they don’t really understand TCP/IP and all that jazz and I don’t think they understand the importance of a technology they simply don’t understand (they don’t understand much tech stuff). But they try, hence such things as the unbelievably poorly thought out violent and extreme pornography bill or assorted attempts around the globe to make pornography an “opt-in” service (for the sake of the children, naturally). And will it stop at porn? Does it ever stop? No, of course not!

Now obviously, there is a difference here – almost an inversion. The old French mechanical “clacks” was a way to govern and the modern internet is a way to keep tabs on the governed. This morning for the first time ever I used my bank card contactless (I’ve forgotten my PIN!!!). Some bugger at the NSA or GCHQ now knows what toilet paper I buy, the brand of ciggies I smoke and that I drink semi-skimmed milk. And yeah, I know they could harvest that from the chip anyway but… as a true believing physicist I find action at a distance, “spooky” ;-) That’s a quote from Einstein by the way though Newton himself was not 100% happy with gravity working like that. General Relativity is at least a locally realistic theory. It may be (usually) more mathematically complicated but Relativity makes far fewer metaphysical assumptions than did Newton. Newton has a fair few mad old dears stashed in the attic clad in their wedding dresses. But I digress…

The simple truth is that by hook or by crook any advance in comms will be seen by our Lords and Masters as a potential means of control. Whether it is owning the entire shooting match or just spying on it is a mere matter of tech to the L&M. Tech they will, thankfully, cock-up profoundly but they do try, bless ‘em.

All quotes from “The Information” by James Glieck.

Day of the Doctor.

It is today. It is a fixed point in time and space and I shall be there – or at least in Stockport (the Manchester tickets had gone) – to see the 50th anniversary show live in 3D in the cinema. Cool. I shall not be alone. This is being shown live in 94 countries in 1500 cinemas live. This has never been done before. My wife recently bought the 50th anniversary edition of Dr Who Magazine. It has a copy of the 1964 first anniversary edition of the mag which includes a letter from a reader saying that the Who was the best programme (don’t we call ‘em “shows” now) on either channel. How times change!

I should have bought a fez for the night. Fez’s are cool. There is nothing more but this…

Gen Gapped

I recently had a strange experience. I was buying cat food and smokes in the Co-op. The new lass is quite young and my card failed. It took three wipes for the chip to work. It’s a bit embarrassing to have your card not clocked by the machine as a cue forms. And note I was buying cat food and a pack of fags – not a Mercedes. Anyway, it worked eventually and I mumbled an apology to the shop assistant. I said something about how I wished they’d never gone “chip and pin” and just kept the magnetic strip. The look was as though I had attempted to broker kitty food and 10 Mayfair using Triskelion Quatloos. She said she’d never known anything but chips. Weird for both of us. I had to show her the vestigal mag strip on my card. It was almost as though (and I’m 40!) I’d had to explain that once I had to drive sheep into town to buy dung. I’m typing this on a lovely little Lenovo bought this year – I wear mirror-shades and am a techno-fetishist of the first water. I grok tech. Having said that my GnatWest (a million pin-pricks) card does the contactless which I just don’t trust despite not being a ludd-not-ist. I want an active transferral of funds and not a vague wave of the card. And that because I understand the tech to the extent to which I understand how it can be subverted. I wonder how she would have reacted if I’d tried to pay in Au*.

So I got gen-gapped. I wonder. And I wonder this. This was a relative gen-gap. OK if me and this girl (I use the term after some thought) were “walking out” then it would be a bit odd due to the age difference but not staggering. But not to bizarre. No, but it does raise a question I used to often ponder… How far back does one have to go that if you “time-scooped” someone they would find the contemporary World utterly baffling? It’s, I think a very interesting question. As an addition to this my wife is probably roughly twice the age of the girl in the Co-op but has never played a vinyl record. As a further question here has this Co-op lass ever played a CD? She’s never used a swipe card

Have any of you had similar experiences? I’d like to know.

*You seen those TV and other ads for “unwanted gold”. Now I’m not a “gold-bug” but does anyone have “unwanted gold”? I mean they might be on their uppers and a tin of beans to feed their kids is more valuable (value is relative to need – the basis of the market). In the context cat-food (4% meat and therefore 96% God knows what was more valuable to me than what was in my bank A/C. Obviously! That is how markets work and must work. Anybody sitting at their computer who has had Mr or Ms Kitty pawing at the return key knows this. So does the cat which is why the little furry buggers do it.

That Dashing Young Man and His — WHAT Machine??

Over at Samizdata, Natalie has posted something on the mewlings of a certain Public Intellectual. One thing led to another with the result that Nick (nice-guy) Gray brought up what he calls “mental pollution.” Through the magic of YrsTrly’s wetware, the same found this, which might provide some entertainment for those Kitties who are loafing around rather than occupying themselves properly with Kounting….

There is a short video of this technological miracle in operation at

While there, visitors might wish to consult the Site Map.

Windy Miller – Irish edition – it’s like a Leprechaun rotisserie!

UK and Irish ministers will today sign an agreement that could see some of the world’s largest wind turbines built across the Irish midlands.

Stretching more than 600 feet (180 metres) in the air, the towers are set to generate energy for millions of UK homes from 2017.

The companies involved say the Irish power is a cheaper form of renewable than UK offshore wind.

Note cheaper form of “renewables” and no mention is made of burning coal or oil or gas or trash or uranium.

But environmentalists have described the scheme as “crazy”.

They say it risks damaging Ireland’s landscape.

Well, for once I’m with the Greens here. I mean Mr Magoo himself would manage to spot a 180m tower. That is roughly the height of the BT tower in London. Apparently they don’t look so big if you look at them from a long way away. Neither does Jupiter.

BTW that is an explicit ref to “Father Ted” and cows. And he was trying to explain scale and such to his dim-witted curate Dougal.

Under the plan, a number of companies are seeking to erect hundreds of wind turbines across the boggy midlands of Ireland. The power generated would be transferred to the UK via undersea cables that would join the grid at two points in Wales.

“Boggy midlands”. Dear Gods! Have people been on the Poitín? I mean building a 180m tower in a bog? What could possibly go wrong?

One of the developers, Element Power, says the plan would save UK consumers around £7bn over 15 years compared to other renewable sources.

Again with the renewables Moriaty! Electricity is the life-blood of modernity. Without the electricity we might as well dig-up Jimmy Maxwell and bugger the remains. I mean for fuck’s sake! Let’s make the most important thing in the World – the thing that separates us from the brutes in the most half-arsed manner imaginable! But that’s OK because this utter fuckeration is happening in Paddyshire. And they are stonier than an Old Testament execution.

The developers also say that thousands of jobs will be created in Ireland and the economy as a whole will benefit.

But it creates jobs! What Keynesian madness is that? You might as well just pay Pat to dig a hole in the bog and Mick to fill it in. I hate this. It is the key fail of BBC News. Always with the jobs Moriaty! Economic development is about destroying jobs not make-work for the sake of it. I mean how many dung-chewers or pig-pokers do you know? We had this thing called an “Industrial Revolution”. This meant we made things quicker, cheaper, faster and with less general effort. We might as well climb up a 180m tower and piss on the grave of Lord Armstrong. And yes, his gaff was the first home in the world with electricity. He had a hydro station because he wasn’t a numpty.

But concerns are now growing that the turbines needed to provide the power will be of a size and scale not seen in Britain or Ireland before.

Because the bog lands are relatively windless, the company behind the scheme says they will need to stretch high into the sky to catch sufficient wind to generate power.

Some old-time buggers in Babylon had a similar idea. That’s in fucking Genesis. Do we ever learn?

“We felt it was better to built slightly larger turbines but fewer of them and that’s the best way to minimise the impact on the local area.”

180m is slightly larger. I am a former student of astrophysics so I have a technical term for 180m, “fucking enormous”.

But opponents say that local people have not been consulted and few actually realise just what an impact the turbines will have on the landscape.

“People don’t actually understand the scale of them,” said Andrew Duncan, an auctioneer and spokesman for the Lakelands Wind Information group, who are opposed to the plan.

Is Mr Duncan lobbying for windy milling in the Lakes. Because if so he can fuck off too. Cumbria has a major role in power generation – it’s called Sellafield.

“Putting up the largest turbines in the world without consultation – I think it is ludicrous, to be honest.”

Yeah, well I live in a grade II listed building and technically I’m not allowed a Sky dish. And that is less than a metre across! It was hidden round the back of the chimney by the Sky-man. Of course in order to get “council telly” I could perfectly legally erect a monstrance of a 5 metre Yagi dipole which is odd because just down the road from me is a fucking ginormous dish. We call it Jodrell Bank. Oddly enough that is also a grade II listed building. A few years back it was faced with closure for the want of GBP 3.5 million. I almost did an MSc there but I also had an offer from Queen Mary in London and I kinda figured Stepney would be more fun than Macclesfield which is (in a weird way) is how I wound-up in Cheshire anyway. In the end though London was fun – as ever.

Jodrell Bank is fucking awesome. I go there when they have does. I go there because it is the future, not the past. I recall being disgusted when it was to be scrapped and folk were on about what an iconic thing on the Cheshire skyline it was. Yes, it is but is that the point of it? There’s a Universe out there and that is our telephone. It is not about being cute. It’s about being an enormous steerable array. It’s about astronomy, not heritage. This is Britain. This is the birthplace of the industrial age and the nation of Newton and Darwin. We are not a fucking museum. My boss at Nottingham University won the Nobel Prize for inventing the MRI scanner. There is no blue plaque on the door. We are now going for the Blue Paque and twinning with Hobbiton. I have stood on the reactor plate of the first ever nuclear power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria as a kid (A-Level Physics school trip) and I shall be buggered if I’m giving up that to build cunting windmills in Irish bogs. You couldn’t get Fathers Ted, Jack and Dougal to come up with something more half-witted! And at least Craggy Island was windy.

Oh for God’s sake electricity, the motor car and heavier than air flight are like cool. They are the second industrial revolution. They are the reason I can get fro Manchester Airport to Paris in just over an hour or to Istanbul in like four. It is the reason I don’t go into the stream and bang my washing with rocks like some medieval cunt but stick it in the electric machine instead. Dear sweet Jesus! Do I want to live like my grandparents? No. And they appreciated new stuff too. My Grandad went to primary school without shoes. I went to university in Nike Airs. I’d say that was an improvement and so would he if he was still with us.

But not everything has been cured yet.

In the event of failure

Do you know much about data communications networking structures?

The most common type of network you are likely to come across is is what is called a client-server network. The local device, the phone in your pocket, the computer on your desk at work, register themselves with a big fat central machine, and as the client then make requests that the central machine provide services. Your phone, for instance, along with every other nearby phone, registers with a local base station and asks that that station provide the service of relaying on telephone calls, SMS texts, Internet accesses and so on. As you move around the phone detects which of many base stations have the strongest signal and continually re registers with new ones as you pass them. Of course, when you get out into the wilderness the phone can be stuffed, no station signal strong enough to allow registration or communication.

Thing is, it isn’t just wilderness areas where communications can drop away either. Consider a natural disaster, an earthquake in a city, or a wild fire in the countryside, where the local base station infrastructure can be wiped out; situations where communications are critical but suddenly non existent?

With current client server models you are stuffed.


Alan Turing

Today would be Alan Turing’s 100th birthday. Alas it never transpired. He died in still debatable circumstances when he was in his prime. Was he a great pure mathematician? Yes, I’d put him almost as high as Gödel and that is like comparing a footballer to Pele. Both of course were not normal men. Turing had some fairly odd ideas and Kurt Gödel starved to death. Gödel was paranoid and refused to eat any food not prepared by his wife, then his wife died. Now Gödel was a nutter. Perhaps everyone who scales such (literally) infinite heights is going to be a bit unusual. It is hard to say what killed Turing. It has entered the popular consciousness that he was a sort of gay martyr (the statue of him in Manchester is in the gay village and not where it ought to be – in front of the University) and this is possibly true. He was convicted of “gross indecency” for having sex with another man. If there is a great villain here it is the law. My understanding is Turing had sex with Arnold Murray in his own home in Wilmslow and it all came out when he reported a burglary by his shagging partner. I fail to see how anyone can be “indecent” in their own home.

But it is possible the cyanide coated apple was a mere mistake. It has been mooted. Certainly Turing (a pure mathematician not schooled in lab discipline) was new to the game. And trust me as a physicist I have worked with lethal things and I wouldn’t trust a mathematician in my lab. Mainly those lethalities were in the sense of serious voltages and radioactive stuff and not any biohazard or poison*. So maybe? Who knows! Who cares! I am typing this on a Lenovo S205. That is what matters. It is certainly possible that the female hormones Turing was ordered to take after his conviction that caused him to grow breasts outraged him because he was also verging on being a world-class long-distance runner or following his conviction (not unrelated to the Cambridge spies) he lost his security clearance (for being gay – unlike the Cambridge spies he was not a KGB agent, just gay) or even the fact he was only a reader at Manchester because the security about Enigma/Lorenz had left a “black-hole” in his career. A fundamental thing here is that we were moving from Empire at the time and gave as a parting gift Enigma machines we’d snicked from the Germans but we didn’t want them to know we could break the code. Sneaky? Brilliant! But it meant nobody involved with Station X or Ultra got the credit. You can compare and contrast with Manhattan. Of course that was for obvious reasons much harder to keep on the QT.

There are people who define centuries. Roughly the Stephensons defined the C19. The C20th was invented by Nikola Tesla. Our time belongs to Turing. If you are reading this you are reading this on a Turing Machine. Much the same as the Turing machine I am writing this on. I got my first Turing machine (a 48K Speccie) in 1984. I felt like a king – I had a computer and they had been huge things maintained by fit librarian-type birds in lab-coats with clip-boards and owned by Bond villains in Mao suits and cats. I wrote a game even – it was very poor – but hell’s buggery – I wrote a game! I learned maths and drew fractals from outlines of programs from Scientific American my Dad nabbed from work. Alan Turing made it so. The game BTW was called “Orc Fighter” and was truly dreadful.

So fill your cups for Alan Turing. He made us. We have a category here called “Transformative Technologies”. Turing is certainly up there. He is up there with George Stephenson and the Wright Brothers. He is there in the pantheon with Tesla and Newton. And I don’t say that about many folks.

*My final university experimental project was… Well I built a magnetometer out of bits. It worked down to very few fractions of a Tesla. Nano Tesla I think. It annoyed some profs because I had proven data of car movements in the car park… Not everyone was actually clocking in or out at time. But that was not my original scheme. Oh, no I wanted to play with magnetotactic bacteria as a model for certain solid state systems. Three problems. A budget of GBP35, the fact these buggers come from New England swamps and thirdly nobody in the physics department having the slightest idea on the H&S issues. The magnetometer was built in the end with scavenged parts for about a tenner. God knows what happened to it.

Thanks Fred!

This morning I stumble out of bed and out the house to buy some ciggy-wigs. Upon my return my wife has found a jiffy-bag from Suffolk pushed through the letterbox (which by the way is like Arkwright’s till. It contains some CDs and a letter from commentator Fred Thrung (not his real name)). So thanks Fred! This is what I shall do. I shall attempt to fix the XP system. If that goes pear shaped I shall do a clean re-install by also by the means of the disk. I shall appoint a HD with XP on it and use that to access the drive with like all my wife’s stuff (including billing details!) and then re-install the full caper including Office. Thanks again Fred! As every computer I build is builded Raskolnikov doesn’t have a single drive so that ought to be doable. It will mean crawling under a desk with a posidrive and trying not to ingest dust-bunnies but that is my life. And I love it. Oh, I complain (of course I do!) but I love it. To me the most beautiful sound in the world is the Windows opening jingle because it means my work is done and I can watch Doctor Who.

Machines I have built:

First was Urania (there was also Urania II and I think III – Urania I died from the click of death a fault common to IBM drives of the time), a computer for my father in law (forget the name – not his name!), then Thalia (a stormer with twin WD RAID Raptors that set the fucking twilight reeling – she sounded like a form of apocalypse – it was fast as the cunting fuck) Calliope and Astarte and ultimately, via ifs and buts, Hekate – aka “The Deathstar” – faster than any cunting fuck imaginable this side of tachyons (I pity iPad users – I really do – the suckers of Steve’s mummified Jobby that they are). And so many others… They all have names (mainly classical and female – you grokked my trend?) and they all exist. They are the best of me. They are what I do when I am at my best. The rest of the time I’m a grumpy git railing against half-wits like Ed Balls or Michael Gove but sometimes I build things that count. I build universal machines and give them classical names because they deserve it. I dare not name a machine “Alan” though if I do be very afraid. Because if I dare build an “Alan” it will have to make HAL-9000 look like a pocket calculator.

Anyway, cheers Fred. It has not gone unoticed that was Special Delivery.

PS. My wife is delighted! She reckons you a capital fellow.

Transformative Technologies

And Google will have a record of every single incident
Do you really want them to have that?

H/T Next Big Future

Tell me this is an April Fool. Please!

The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.

The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.

Words fail.

Tory MP David Davis called it “an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people”.

Attempts by the last Labour government to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Tories.

I might as well move to Pyongyang. Oh, and why is the phrase, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” springing to mind? Oh, and encrypt everything. I have a scheme for a cipher that is potentially unbreakable in principle. At least if you don’t know how it works ;-) More on that in a later post!

Read the whole thing. And get angry. I shall be writing to my MP.

Such Things As Communism Could only Dream of…

Cats seems to think this is sinister. It ain’t got nothing on this though. It’s a long article but well worth reading in full. I’m excerpting bits to give the flavour.

On the surface, Shustorovich’s project is a public-spirited attempt to bring Russia’s education system into the digital era. In the 2010-11 academic year, around 300 year-six pupils from 11 schools in cities across Russia, from well-heeled Moscow to the rural Siberian city of Tomsk and the mining stronghold of Magnitogorsk, were loaned a portable hybrid e-book and tablet computer with which to learn, do their homework, revise for exams and — soon — order lunch from the school cafeteria.

But this isn’t solely a social experiment. Shustorovich, 45, wants to create Russia’s next platform for digital interactions, one that his business controls. With every keystroke and swipe on his devices, he is building a giant real-time spreadsheet of personal data. Once millions of teenagers get used to learning, interacting and connecting via Shustorovich’s proprietary system, then what need will this and future generations have for social networks such as Facebook? “Facebook is Facebook,” he says. “But adding a social network on top of the [educational platform] will be very easy.”

Unlike other electronic classroom aids, E-OK isn’t designed merely to complement books and desktop PCs, but to replace everything a pupil uses to study. Connected wirelessly (and soon via 4G) to the school’s year-six and -seven curricula — with years five and eight due to be added shortly — the devices aim to reboot how children learn, teachers teach and principals run schools. By gathering data from classroom test scores, exam results and attendance records alongside statistics from mandatory school medical checks and even food ordered by the catering staff, the system creates a real-time data chain which loops from individual schools, through regional hubs, to the Ministry of Education — right up to the Kremlin. Last June, prime minister Vladimir Putin signed a directive ordering Russia’s ministers of education and communications to evaluate and report to him personally. Both ministers have since reported back “favourably”, says Shustorovich, speaking in support of E-OK’s implementation in schools.

The trial has shown her the project’s huge potential: “The information flows from the child, to the teacher, to me and all the way to the district prefect.”

E-OK is Shustorovich’s brainchild, and the sheer scale of his vision quickly becomes apparent. He intends to rewire one of the world’s greatest bureaucracies — the Russian state.

Ultimately he intends that every child in Russia’s 50,000 secondary schools — some 16.5 million — will have their own tablet. “[The situation's] so fluid right now. But if we continue to get the sort of traction we’re getting, eventually we’ll be in every school in the country.” [He has the Russian patents and they are pending elsewhere...]

“We had three aptitudes which made us unique players,” he explains. “A long history of being conversant with technology, because we produced a huge volume of scientific information. Second, we had the experience with dealing with internet products in a financial way — our electronic sales of scientific journals and information for universities is in the high-nineties per cent [of overall sales]. And the third was that we knew how to develop school curricula.”

“…when they get their hands on our device, it’s transformative for the psyche.”

Do I need to comment further?

BoJo on Facebook…

For the record I’m on Facebook and essentially it seems to me a method by which people I didn’t get on with at school pretend they are my friends. Whatever! I appreciate how it works and indeed what it is for.

Boris Johnson doesn’t but wishes we had a similar “get-up and go” attitude to the internet. The article is extremely dull and full of BoJo-ish bumptiousnessness until..

I don’t pretend to grasp the economics of the web, which seems to me to be a colossal destroyer of value, reducing the price of text, music, images and voice telephony to virtually nil.

There is one word I object to there. Guess! It’s “value”. Is hearing your favourite song via an iPod via iTunes less valuable to you than if you’d bought it on disc at HMV? Is telephony worth less because it used to cost more?

OK. Here’s a personal tale on the conflation of price and value. My Great Aunt (and family – she was the draw being a qualified nurse) emigrated to the land of Oz in the ’60s. At the time the parting was such sweet sorrow. She honestly never thought she’d see my Gran (her sister) again. On roll times and she can afford to come back on holiday for a visit which she did. So I get (on a number of times) to meet my Great Aunty Pat from Melbourne. “Cost” and “Value” recall? My sister-in-law is currently in the country – we had a roast dinner in Derbyshire on Sunday – though she normally lives in Silesia. She came over because her Gran took a tumble and is currently in Stepping Hill Hospital (Yes, that one). She came over at the drop of a hat because you can these days. She keeps in touch with folks back here via Skype. Hell’s teeth, last autumn I and my wife (her sister) was over her end and but for the tender ministrations of our own version of the TSA it was like getting on a bus – to travel half a continent away.

The only thing that annoyed me was they have (in a small town in Silesia) better broadband and HDTV for a nominal sum compared to what we have to shell-out to Sky. Sky for perverse reasons (this also applies to Virgin) aren’t allowed to lay cable (or absolutely not) run it on overheads. Those BT ads make me wanna puke. They still have the local loop and are still a de facto monopoly.

Anyway. I’m typing this on a Lenovo S205 laptop/netbook (nobody seems able to make their mind up) and whilst it my have cost less in both real and actual terms as my first PC – the Elonex 386SX16 or yore – it brings more value to my life than that heffalumping thing did. And it was beige.

So Boris, please work this out. “Value” does not equal “Cost”.

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