Archive for March, 2009

Monday, March 30th, 2009

The Geek Thoughts Manifesto

Never trust a document with “Manifesto” in the title, nor that document’s writer.

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Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Signs of life in cold fusion research

This article seems encouraging. I’ve never been able to come to grips with the anti-CF bias of the scientific community. Sure a few researchers made fools of themselves two decades ago, but what has that got to do with falsifiable hypotheses? A small amount of research goes on with minimal funding, under the newer name of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), and the signs are encouraging.

From the article, researchers used plastic as a permanent record of neutron movement and found that, indeed, neutrons are being produced, leaving tiny tracks behind.

Another recent article from Jeffrey Kooistra has more details of current research. Good stuff, and important if it works. Heck, it’s important if it doesn’t work, because that still expands what we know. -m

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

XIN: Implicit namespaces

An interesting proposal from Liam Quin, relating to the need for huge rafts of namespace declarations on mixed namespace documents.

In practice, though, almost all elements [in the given example] are going to be unambiguous if you take their ancestors into account, and attributes too.

Amen. I’ve been saying things like this for five years now. Look at any introductory text on XML, and the example used to show the need for namespaces will be embarrassingly contrived. That’s not a dig against authors, it’s a dig against over-engineered solutions to non-problems.


Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Netflix watch: Taming of the Shrew available instantly

The 1980 BBC version with John Cleese. Available for instant watching, but will go away on April 01. Apparently lots of BBC stuff is supposedly going away soon. (I’ve never linked to a Netflix title before, let me know if it doesn’t work) -m

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Lithium battery breakthrough means your phone will charge in 10 seconds? Not so fast.

[Update: now featuring Actually Correct Math. Somebody stop me before I late-night-blog again…]

Recent news coverage mentions a badly-needed breakthrough at MIT in battery technology. Using a slight variation of existing lithium materials, much faster charge and discharge rates are possible. The money quote is that

[Professor Gerbrand Ceder and graduate student Byoungwoo Kang] went on to make a small battery that could be fully charged or discharged in 10 to 20 seconds.

News outlets seem to have latched on to this part of the announcement and hinted that all kinds of battery-powered devices will soon be chargeable in ten seconds. I don’t think it will be likely to see, say a cell phone (much less a vehicle, as some stories hint) that can fully charge in 10 seconds. Here’s why: A typical cell phone battery might be rated at 800 mAh. It’s not perfectly linear, but you can think of it as being able to deliver 800 milliamps for an hour, or 10 milliamps for 80 hours, and so on. You could approximate the energy storage of the battery by multiplying volts x amps x hours, giving a figure in watt-hours (in this case 3.6 x 0.8 x 1 = 2.88 watt-hr). To charge it in 10 seconds, all that energy would need to be delivered within the 10 seconds, which is a sixth of a minute, or a 360th of an hour. So the charging current would need to be 0.8 x 360 = 288 amps, not counting any efficiency losses in the form of heat.

What’s the big deal about pumping out 288 amps? Ohm’s law gives some idea. To push 288 amps through a complete circuit of one ohm (this includes the internal resistance of the battery), you would need to apply 288 volts, with a resulting power consumption of 288 squared, or just under 83,000 watts. That kind of current is more suitable for an industrial arc welder than a household battery charger. Even if the resistance can be made smaller, the benefit is only linear. To compare, my laptop, which dissipates 65 watts over several square inches, gets uncomfortably hot. Or see how long you can hold your hand on a lit 100 watt incandescent bulb. I can’t imagine packing that much energy into a “small” battery. It’s also hard to imagine a safe charging circuit that uses voltages that much above the nominal voltage of the battery.

So professor Ceder’s breakthrough looks great, and probably will be in iPods in a few years, but take the media coverage with a large grain of salt.


Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: omito


(Spanish) First-person singular (yo) present indicative form of omitir (to omit).

(Proto-English) Shortened word form of an error of omission, e.g. in written.

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Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

The remarkable (and prolific) Stephen Wolfram has an idea called Wolfram Alpha. People used to assume the “Star Trek” model of computers:

that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer.

Which has proved to be quite distant from reality. Instead

But armed with Mathematica and NKS [A New Kind of Science] I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable.

It’s not easy to do this. Every different kind of method and model—and data—has its own special features and character. But with a mixture of Mathematica and NKS automation, and a lot of human experts, I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten a very long way.

I’m still a SearchMonkey guy at heart, so I wonder how much Wofram’s team is familiar with existing Semantic Web research and practice–because at a high level this seems very much like RDF with suitable queries thereupon. If that’s a good characterization, that’s A Good Thing, since practical application has been one of SemWeb’s weak spots.


Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: sad Google

Your search – :-) – did not match any documents.


  • Try different keywords.

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Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: sudo says

Sudo says make me a sandwitch.

Sudo says clap your hands.

Sudo says touch your nose.

Sudo says turn in a circle.

Now give me a thumbs up. Ha! I didn’t say sudo says!

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Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Geek Thoughts: Amazon backtracks on text to speech

With apologies to a real news site. (02-27) 16:14 PST SEATTLE, (AP) Inc. changed course Friday and said it would allow copyright holders to decide whether they will permit their works to be read aloud by the latest laryngeal apparatus, a feature that has been under development for several thousand years.

The move comes nearly two weeks after a group representing authors expressed concern that the feature, which was intended to be able to read every book, blog, magazine and newspaper out loud, would undercut separate audiobook sales. The average American can use their larynx to read text in a somewhat stilted voice.

Amazon said in a statement that it, too, has a stake in the success of the audiobook market, and pointed to its Brilliance Audio and Audible subsidiaries, which publish and sell professionally recorded readings.

“Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat,” the company said.

Amazon is working on the technical changes needed for authors and publishers to turn text-to-speech off for individual titles.

The Web retailer also said the text-to-speech feature is legal — and wouldn’t require Amazon to pay out additional royalties — because a book read aloud doesn’t constitute a copy, a derivative work or a performance.

More collected Geek Thoughts at

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Boo to Amazon

Dear Amazon, Speaking as an author myself, you not only made a bad choice, you set a precedent in the wrong direction. The Author’s Guild doesn’t speak for me, nor do I want them to. TTS is only going to get better. The last thing we need is another backward industry fighting progress. -m