Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The evolutionary base for littering.

I kneel to no man when it comes to my hatred of littering. From my window I can see a well littered area and watch as cars draw up at traffic lights and throw things out of the window. The problem is that littering seems to be universal barely contained, from our first step onward we seem likely to discard things at the first possible opportunity.
The obvious motivation is simply to get rid of something which we no longer need and which can be of no further use and which carrying around will use energy and prevent us from picking up something else. However, it isn't to our advantage to discard things in the immediate vicinity of our home, discarded food may attract predators or act as a reserve for bacteria or other pathogens.
There may be some positive benefits for certain elements of untidiness. It is often noted that other creatures distribute the seed of plants in their faeces, humans would do the same and additionally when discarding part eat fruit of the foregoing tracks sow the seeds of future food sources within easy reach of existing tracks, possibly the beginnings of gardening.
If littering is a deeply ingrained evolutionary tested strategy, the fact that it has become inconvenient is going to be difficult to deal with.It does make the problem of dealing with littering considerably more difficult to deal with than just some lately acquired habit.
The strategy has become dangerous and counterproductive for several reasons, the density at which we live, the removal of wild animals at first caused problems as the removal of the rest of the ecosystem made their life impossible, then as our levels of waste became higher, the animals that came back in great numbers as they were able to live on our waste.
The only way to truly counter litter is to trigger the instincts that prevented us from littering around our owns homes and expand that area, your guess how to do that is as good as mine.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Here be Dragons

In the not too recent past, large blanks where a feature of any globe. There are still places no one has been on the ground, but we have photographs of them from space, the same isn't true under the sea. Despite Google Earth's course depiction of the seabed, we know very little of the detail.
The common conception of the sea, is limited to the surface, only the most ingrained oceanographer will consider the volume of the sea as a matter of course. For some of us stories of people swimming from liners, in the deep ocean, may suddenly induce a queasy feeling and the sensations associated with being in some inappropriate situation. Suddenly likening ourselves to hovering 4 miles up in the sky, without a parachute or perhaps trapped half way through a trap door with our feet dangling into the darker parts of Mordor.
The search for the unfortunate remains of MH370 have brought a lack of thought and lack of comprehension by the public to the fore. Frequent slightly unhinged call claiming it is madness that we know more about the Moon or Mars, than the depths of the sea. We do have some good photos of the surface of Mars, but that is about it, considerably more is known about the composition of the surface of the bottom of the sea, multiple samples have been returned from the deep, the first man-made object to reach the bottom of the Challenger deep and return to the surface, may only have been a lead weight, but it was in 1875. So far, nothing has been returned from further away than the moon.
Travelling in space involves going from a pressure of 1 atmosphere, on the surface to zero in space. That means that the spacecraft has to resist the gas inside from pushing out the walls, the gas is pushing out at 1.033 kgf per square centimetre. As a submarine dives, for every 10 meters it goes down, it has to resist the water pushing in at an extra 1.033 kgf per square centimetre. That is a submarine at 10 meters is resisting a pressure the same as a spacecraft in orbit at 20 meters it is resisting twice as much. The Challenger Deep is 10,916m deep, so down there, to maintain 1 atmosphere for the crew, the submarine has to resist some 1,091 times the pressure of a space ship. It has to do this while being able to float, if you want to get back to the surface.
There have only been 2 manned visits to the Challenger deep, one by the Bathyscaphe’s Trieste in 1960 and one by James Cameron in his Deepsea Challenger. The bit which the pilot was in was a 1.1 m sphere with 64 mm thick walls of steel. To make a sphere of larger diameter takes thick walls. Several other visits have been made by remotely operated vehicles.
Unlike in space radio doesn't work and any communications with the surface have to be done via acoustic methods, which do not have very great bandwidths or by the use of a tether, which has to be very long, Even when you get down to the bottom you cannot see very far even with very bright lights, plus the only energy you have is what you brought with you as there as no solar panel will work. The Americans did have a nuclear DSV but that could only reach about 1000m, which is not deep enough for large parts of the ocean and any way NR1 has been scrapped.
The not seeing very far goes for on the way down as well, and a lot of life is suspended in the water. So you may miss the interesting bits.
If you do find something interesting and want to bring it back to the surface, you face a whole host of problems trying to keep anything alive or even faintly recognisable. Like humans diving to hundreds of feet the captives will either have to be kept at deep pressure or slowly depressurised otherwise they will quite likely explode on the way up.
While you won't have the wide variation in temperatures that occur in space you'll have a nice constant 3 Celsius to contend with, plus currents. While you will be well protected from radiation surrounded by all that water, the water is quiet corrosive and will be eating away at all your exposed systems.
In the deepest oceans, even the most complex of current survey ships like HMS Echo, with state of the art Multibeam echo sounders, would take an enormous amount of time to cover a significant area, and the resolution would be limited by the great depth. It seems unlikely anyone is likely to fund such an extensive survey of the worlds depths even then they would not tell us very much as it would miss out the content of the water column.
It may be a job that is more suited to autonomous underwater vehicles which could be sent out to record the depths, but would people be happy about any number of nuclear powered subs making their way around the world, without on board supervisions.
The one thing I am sure of is that we have the capability to analyse the data right now, it is not so super computer in the US Defense department or GCHQ but the crowd sourced power of humanity. Never before in human history has it been possible to apply such a large number of people to a single search problem and that capability grows with every day.
The analysis of the data would, by a big margin be, the most expensive part of the operation, but not if it is being done for free by citizen scientists, either by direct analysis or via distributed processor farming via BOINC. Even the funding to collect the data, while not incredibly cheap could be gained from crowd sourcing, we all rely on the sea in some way, whether it be for weather, food, recreation or transportation.
MH370 has pointed to a large blank in our knowledge, perhaps a crowd sourced solution can point us to a new way to do big science and fill in the blanks the public wants to fill in.
A figurehead needs to come forward to kick of the project perhaps James Cameron

Monday, 7 April 2014

Nae Loop then Nae programmer.

I write software, you develop applications, she is a programmer, he is a software engineer, that is a script kiddie and this is a coder. You are none of them, in fact, fuck knows what you are.
Way back at the dawn of time when the master computer clock was still 0, a very bright man developed the idea of the Universal Computing Engine, this machine could emulate any other machine and in order to do this it had to have some very basic functions, if it has those then it is said to be Turing Complete.
Computer instruction sets and programming languages can be Turing complete, things like HTML cannot be, never, ever, ever. You cannot be a coder/programmer/developer/software engineer if all you can use is HTML.
We do need to develop a name for these HTML writers. Well, actually two, one which they will use amongst themselves and one which us coder/programmer/developer/software engineers will use amongst ourselves. I suggest scrivener is the word we allow them to use, and that we use in their presence. It would be used as follows

(S)He is a scrivener.
They are scrivening.
Can you scriven this for me.

The rest of the time when only the grown ups are present I suggest scrawler in either sense.

(S)He is a scrawler.
They are scrawling.
Can you scrawl this for me.

The happy coincidence of the first syllable being them same means that it will easily be possible to change from saying one to saying the other, in the event of their being a scrawler in the room trying to work out how the kettle works.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Vacuum on Dale Street.

EBC 81
The day started off quiet promisingly, but went down hill quite quickly, the way they do when you find that early morning call you dashed to answer was actually from HM Customs and Excise.
That was followed by finding out it had been a year since someone said they were organising a meeting and it still hadn't arrived or any further communications been replied to. Today, was going to call for at least 2 Belgian buns for breakfast.
Ever so slightly restored and sallied forth into the rest of the day, only to drift into a 4 Belgian bun state. As I had already blown the food budget on the first 2, it was off to Pound Bakery for these two.
Suitably reinforced I proceeded down Castle Street, uplifted by the architecture and the sight of a RIBA guide showing architects around. Down Dale Street my heart finally out of the gutter, then it happened. I saw the sign, I read the writing on the wall or more precisely in the window of PRS "closing down no reasonable off refused".
For those of you who live in a world where Tech Geekness is fashionable, shops like PRS mean nothing. For those of us born before the 80s, it is our Mecca, Fire Island, Cavern or N.E.M.S and more. Liverpool's music scene owns PRS a debt too, as they supplied some of the Thermionic Valves, at the heart of their amplifiers, and supplier of the Disco worlds light. Many a TV was repaired with a replacement parts from PRS.
In the 70s it was a few doors closer to the Magistrates court in the Georgian buildings that are in bits and on Saturday it and Soldier of Fortune where the only 2 shops open. Inside PRS was dark and smelled of damp, and as still does today, there were stacks of surplus stock and broken equipment for component salvaging. You could buy all your electronics needs and sit around and get a feeling of what it was like not to be judged for being a Geek. Were that staff would know the difference between an EBC81 and an ECC81 and that an EC135 was a helicopter.
The valve or Thermonic Valve is what the world ran on before transistors, it is still used in some very niche applications today. They gave out a warm red glow and consumed power like nobodies business. They didn't like being switched on or off, but left in either state, for very long time, would be very reliable. The provided all the electronics of WW2 and where the switches of the worlds first fully electronic digital computer, Colossus.
250KW Output valve 1982 by Nick Garrod
PRS is a blast from the past where an interest in electronics could isolate you from society and quite easily kill you. Valves do not glow because of the low current being passed through them.

The nearest I have ever come to a shop like PRS was in Norwich, which sold me a Z80 DART off the shelf, I still have it, as I never got around to building the rest of the system.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

We, Our & I

If you start a campaign for something and use the words we or our, without having had a vote or you make any claim to speak for any group of people, where that is a village, town, city or country and you haven't got the explicit support of a majority of them or won an election, then you are amongst the most vile of human beings, you are a liar and a thief.
You steal their voice and use it for your own cause, you show your moral cowardice in that you cannot stand up and "say this is my idea, this is my opinion, I take responsibility for it". You seek to intimidate others with supporters, you do not have and use the threat of ostracisation .
In the unlike event that you are right in the opinion you promulgate, you are weakning its position by your behaviour.
In short you are scum.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

MH370 and Space Hardware

When an aircraft like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 goes missing all hopes are placed on finding the BlackBox data recorder in the hope of finding out what went wrong. In the earlier case of Air France Flight 447 some data had been transmitted by the onboard system via satellite and the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. This is not the normal flight data, but specific information about faults, in the case of 447 it was far from conclusive and what happened was only discovered when the flight data recorder was recovered.
There are now calls to transmit data in real time. In the case of trans-oceanic flights
Original Satellite by Cliff
this would have to be via satellite and this would be very expensive and would likely require considerably more capacity than currently exists, the obvious way to solve this is to launch more satellites but that will not be cheap. The Iridium Next constellation of 72 satellites, to be launched from 2015, will cost $3billion to build and over $500million to launch. While this is expensive is is far less than the

US$6 billion from the original set of satellites, and is even better value when you consider that these new satellites will be more capable and offer higher data rate than the 1st generation.
Iridium in Antartica
The 1st generation was so expensive that the company that launched it went bust just after completing the system. The assets of the company were bought for $25 million and a successful service was built out of it. In no small part due to the US military's use of it through the world, in the wars since 2001. In part the failure was due to the need to complete the constellation before it would work properly and the relatively small user base to provide income.
That finance can be found to replace the system signifies that there is a big enough finance stream to fund the new equipment, however if the cost was the original 6 billion would it be affordable and that is not taking into account any inflation?
Fortunately the costs are not as high as they were in 1998 it cost $10,000 to launch a pound of cargo, for the latest generation it will be $1,864/lb, less than 1/5 of the cost, accounting for most of the decrease. In realty the Satellites offer better price performance because of the increased utility. Over the next 10-15 years, it is hoped to drop the price to more like $100 per pound. This will have some profound effects in the case of satellite comms and other use of space.
The hardware in space is beyond repair, at the moment, so it is designed with great care and the highest quality components are used and then only the most reliable and tested. In a discipline such as electronics the rate of progress is so rapid that this inevitably means that space hardware is 1 or more generation behind ground based electronics, but if the cost of launch goes down then it becomes practical to have a higher failure rate which will mean more modern and cheaper components, because the economics will allow more in orbit spares and cheaper replenishment.

So by 2025 it should be possible to launch a far more capable satellites and a greatly reduced costs. Plans are underway to develop systems for the servicing and refuelling spacecraft in flight so further extending the life of the hardware and further reducing costs.
The cost will have reduced to such an extent that there will undoubtedly be other, competing systems which will allow not only the real time logging of aircraft data but far far more. It will allow services to be provided that we can only hinted at by current systems. One of the other uses of long distance satellites comms is control of UAVs. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, the RAF's Reaper aircraft are controlled from Lincolnshire.
While people are aware of the GPS system, less are aware of the equally venerable  Russian GLONASS or the upcoming European system Galileo. Even fewer are aware of International Cospas-Sarsat Programme.
These systems will be great for tracking anything, whether it's for scientific purposes or commercial and also exchanging messages with an object on the Internet of things. This is a logistics manager's idea of heaven. It will enable logging of medical implants from anywhere and potential hacking of them.
The world of Satellites, UAVs and Stratolites is going to be an amazing place it is time to start trying to work out what to do on it now.
The Iridium satellites are in Polar orbit, the means they don't go around the equator, but from pole to pole, their orbits all converge at the poles, unusually giving these remote places the best coverage.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Internal monologue.

Our internal monologue is the longest conversation any of us have, yet none of it will ever be written down. I find myself asking think, that it would be great to have a machine to plug into your head, which transcribed it to the document of our lives.
If we for the moment ignore the possibility of such a document falling into the hands of someone we don't want to see it, we could investigate what we actually were thinking in the past.

About 15 years ago I got to play with an early version of IBMs ViaVoice, the main thing I learnt was that I say, ahem, a lot and mumble a lot, far more than my internal a dialogue does, I also learnt that my voice doesn't have the authoritative deep gravely sound of my internal monologue. I was already faintly aware of this from recording answer phone messages but it still came as a shock that I sounded like one of the yokels caught in the lights of a TV news broadcast, trying to describe what just happened.

The greatest achievement of the human mind is the fiction of our memory. If it was a film our memory would have to be described as "inspired by real events". Depending on what type of person we are it is either a heroic epic, full of great deeds and victories snatched from the jaws of defeat or a forlorn tragedy, epic in its misfortune, missed chances and immense regrets.

In my head, I have written this next bit at least 20 times. It's funny, witty, erudite and enlightening. Your lives will be greatly enhanced by the wisdom and insight it provided. It seems to lose a certain something in transferring from my mind to the written form.

What you are experiencing here is the equivalent of watching an advert for the latest Ultra High Def TV on a 512 line black and white TV. With the sound being provided by a the valve of a 1950s AM radio. It's a horrible, degrading thing which only hints at the at what I am experiencing.

I'm 90% confident that what you experience, as your day to day life, in your own internal monologue, is as far removed from the fumbling, creaking, inarticulate  wreck that the rest of us see, as this paragraph is from the wonders realisation of the glories of existence and the appalling gulf between these little islands of consciousness that each of us represent.

If the greatest writers could transcribe even the smallest sliver of true experience, they would have to be 10 or 100 times greater than they actually are. The greatest works of art are a mere caricature of the universe and the slightest shadow of the human experience. The greatest novel, poem, play or installation figures as only the smallest vignette, in a small fraction of a a daily epic. In it sold, existent form it it is less, than a grain of sand in the experience of the creator and less than the smallest atom in that grain to the observer.

The creative efforts of man are simply the fertilizer for the internal experience, to add to the great and only work of all our lives, our internal monologue. The experience of work is greatest for its creator, true experience is the creation of things not in the appreciation of them. What you take away from seeing something is the best bit of the experience, what you take away is the internal dialogue and it is for the most part created by you.

Hearing a sound is more productive than the mundane, repetitive process of reproducing that sound.