Archive for February, 2009

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: unexpected

It is what you don’t expect that most needs looking for.

From Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, p 29.

More collected Geek Thoughts at

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Brian May explains relativity

This is fantastic. Brian May (yes THAT Brian May) not only blogs, but talks about all kinds of challenging subjects. Like how and why space and time are linked. Worth a read. -m

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

How Orbo works

I’m (just barely) enough of a writer that I can spend cycles on Steorn‘s claims without being branded a crackpot. After all, the novel I’m working on involves a similar device being invented 4,000 years ago. It’s all research.

Imagine if Earth’s gravitational field, instead of being a constant 1.0G, rocked back and forth between 0.99G and 1.01G at some fixed interval. That’d be perhaps not enough to feel, but enough to extract “free energy”. Arrange a heavy weight on a wheel, and time it so that it moves downward (doing work) during the heavier phase and returns to the top during the lighter phase. You’d have more than perpetual motion, you would be able to extract real work out of the device on a continuous basis.

Steorn’s claims are similar, but with permanent magnets instead of gravity.

Orbo is based upon time variant magnetic interactions, i.e. magnetic interactions whose efficiency varies as a function of transaction timeframes.

I get the feeling that they are being very, very careful about what they write. In particular, the word “efficiency” is very odd in this sentence. In my earlier example, it would sound unnatural to talk about the “efficiency of the gravitational interaction”. Unless one talks about the kinds of efficiency that go above 100%…. So let’s roll with it.

It is this variation of energy exchanged as a function of transaction time frame that lies at the heart of Orbo technology, and its ability to contravene the principle of the conservation of energy. Why? Conservation of energy requires that the total energy exchanged using interactions are invariant in time. This principle of time invariance is enshrined in Noether’s Theorem.

So some hitherto unknown process temporarily nudges a magnetic interaction in one direction, only for it to bounce back in the opposite direction, like in the gravity example. Get the timing right and presto, free energy. I don’t understand why they are so cavalier about “contravening” the principle of conservation of energy though. It seems to me that more observations would be in order. As in “the device produced 100 watts for 6 months straight, with no input power sources”–which could be true in various ways that don’t contravene conservation of energy. It’s almost as if they are deliberately being provocative in their statements. Go figure. -m

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

French, British nuclear subs collide

Honestly, I don’t even need to write a punchline for this one, it sounds so much like the setup of a Monty Python-esque joke. Give it your best shot in the comments… -m

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Crane Softwrights adds XQuery training

From the company home page, reknown XSLT trainer and friend G. Ken Holman has expanded his offerings to include XQuery training. The first such session is March 16-20, alongside XML Prague.

I’ve always thought there is great power in having both XSLT and XQuery tools at one’s disposal. I’ve seen people tend to polarize into one camp or the other, but in truth there is a lot of common ground, as well as cases where the right technology makes for a much more elegant solution. So learning both is easier than it seems, and more useful than it seems.

If you will be around the conference, take a look at the syllabus. I’m curious to see others’ reactions toward the combined XSLT + XQuery toolset. -m

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: the downside of free energy

Steorn is making noise again about the free energy device they claim to have invented. The proper scientific attitude to have toward such claims is skepticism, though most responses (always from individual who have never seen it) goes well beyond that.

But think of the downside if every phone, iPod, refrigerator, car, air conditioning unit, factory, etc. comes to contain a perpetual energy source. Total energy use would skyrocket, and all that energy still has to go somewhere, so it ends up as waste heat. Global warming on an unprecedented scale ensues.

There’s more. If overabundance of energy is the problem, it’s a mere engineering challenge to build planetary-scale air coolers, beaming waste heat out into space. Imagine an advanced civilization that’s already doing it. From a distance their planet might look nothing like what current exoplanet researchers are looking for.

There’s enough here for several novels. If you had unlimited energy resources, what would you like to see built?

More collected Geek Thoughts at

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

iPhone battery life after carrier update

A few days ago, a carrier update arrived for my iPhone. Since then, my battery life has suffered a significant decline. Anyone else seen this? -m

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: all too true

From Jeffrey D. Kooistra’s April 2009 Alternate View column in Analog magazine:

If there is one thing that has become clear in the twenty years since the advent of [Cold Fusion], it is that presenting the straight scientific facts in straight prose and to a significant level of detail doesn’t sway set-in-concrete, or even set-in-Jell-O, opinions one damn bit.

All too true. None of us can clam be be without bias, and a surprisingly large percentage of problems in the world stem from this.

More collected Geek Thoughts at

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

XSLTForms beta

XSLTForms, the cross-browser XForms engine (written about previously) that makes ingenious use of built-in XSLT processing, reached an important milestone today, with a beta release. Tons of bug fixes and additional support for CSS and Schema.

If you’re thinking about getting involved with XForms and are looking for something small and approachable, give it a look. -m