Reducing Exposure to Galactic Cosmic Rays

In case you haven’t seen this posted, NASA has a NASA cosmic ray challenge (with $29,000 prize) posted on Innocentive for ways to reduce the impact of cosmic rays on astronauts on extended space missions outside of Low Earth Orbit. This is a serious health concern for Mars missions, and traditional methods of radiation shielding (i.e. lots of lead) are too heavy for current mission parameters.

I’m not a material scientist, so the precise details are beyond me, but here’s roughly what I think the solution will ultimately look like (don’t worry, I’ve submitted this already!). Continue reading

The Hyperloop Actually Is For Freight

I wish I’d spotted this story (also on QZ) a few days earlier, as it would have been a nice one to add to my Five Year Retrospective.

The company implementing the Hyperloop demonstrator have announced $8.5 million in funding – get this – to build a freight-first version of the technology.

Called this one in 2013 (here) – “this system is wasted on human passengers”.

Seriously, are these people reading my blog, or is my real name “Captain Obvious”?

Five Year Retrospective

I realized today that I’ve been writing this blog for more than five years. I’ve kept everything up here (even the stuff that now appears hopelessly naive or even downright embarrassing), because it provides a record for me of the lessons (some of them hard earned) that I’ve learned along the way.

Re-reading some of what I’ve written, I’ve decided to write a retrospective, to see how well things have stood up over time (and to review what I’ve learned along the way).

The results are a mixed bag, as you’ll see below. Continue reading

Client-side game scoring with blockchains

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you (at least occasionally) play games online in your browser. You’ve probably noticed that client-side games, and particularly multi-user ones, don’t have the same performance as software that you install on your computer (or use on a dedicated gaming platform). This is at least partially because the scoring model for such games is typically hosted on the server, since javascript is too easy for users to access and modify themselves. The typical design for javascript (and also older Flash) games is to have them constantly communicate the player’s moves back to the server; the server determines scoring and other updates, and returns that back to the user. This introduces lots of opportunities for lag.

I haven’t had a chance to really think this out in detail, but what if a javascript-based game used a blockchain system instead?

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The server keeps track of (and likely caches, in order to reduce the size of transactions) a blockchain
  • When the user loads the game, they receive a portion of the chain, along with the entire scoring model in javascript
  • As the user interacts with the game, additional entries are made in the blockchain to record them
  • The user’s chain is periodically sent back to the server to check for cheating, and to keep all of the users in synch
  • There would need to be some sort of mechanism for interchange of blockchain transactions between users, to keep the system honest

As I previously mentioned, I haven’t thought this out in a great amount of detail. Assuming this approach works, it could move a lot more of the code into the client, and reduce client-server communication. That should speed things up significantly.

Why is the price of oil dropping?

I’ve been watching the price of oil lately (what, don’t you do that also?). I just read this on Bloomberg this morning, which implies further declines in the price of crude through 2015. The question is why. Typically we only see this sort of sustained decline in the face of an economic downturn. There’s a lot of subtext that I’m missing here though, and I’m hoping some of my readers can fill in the gaps for me. Continue reading

VW’s platform trouble: when streamlining actually isn’t

I wrote about VW’s vaunted platform streamlining process about a year and a half ago (you can read my post here), and predicted at the time that it would eventually cause them grief.

I just read this article which describes how their platform is already backfiring on them. I had though it would take a few years for this to happen, but the auto industry evolves rapidly.

I’m not sure my reasoning was 100% accurate for why things aren’t working out there, but it still brings up an important point – a streamlining process can result in massive over-specialization based on the way things work today. That can have severe ramifications when the underlying model changes, because it can slow down the ability for an organization to change later on.

In addition, the actual process of streamlining can involve large organizational change, and as we all know, change management can be a tricky task.

Net neutrality should be about user experience

stopI just read this article about how Cisco believes that net neutrality rules need to allow for bandwidth shaping.

I believe they’re missing the point entirely.

Right now the issue is that infrastructure owners are playing games with the prioritization of bits, in order to provide leverage for charging tolls to content providers (I’m coining the word “trollboothing“, if it doesn’t exist already, to describe this). The result is a loss for consumers of content, because their internet experience is degraded (sometimes severely). Continue reading

That was quick…

Usually it takes a bit longer between when I predict something in writing and when somebody actually invents it.

Last year I wrote a short humorous SF story (you can read it on my other blog here) that features a spacecraft that uses weak magnetic fields to guide plasma around its surface.

I just spotted this story on Slashdot.

Okay, okay, they’re talking about a slightly different use case, and they aren’t speculating about physics.

Still…

Decomposing the Bus

If you take public transit, this scenario will be familiar to you.

After a lengthy wait in the freezing cold (or sweltering heat), the bus finally arrives. It was likely held up by rush-hour traffic.

You fight your way onto the bus through a mob of people trying to get off. When you eventually get on, you find yourself packed in like a sardine in a can, with somebody’s heavy bag poking into your back.

As the bus lurches away (throwing everyone into each other), you see a crowd of angry people, through the window, who couldn’t make it onto the bus.

So here’s a thought for you:

What if it was possible for you to get on the bus before it had even arrived?

What if it was possible for all of those other people to get off of the bus after it (and you) had already left?

Continue reading

The strategic implications of tiered network access

This week, the US Supreme Court struck down the FCC’s ruling on network neutrality, which defines telco companies as common carriers, who are therefore forced to treat all network traffic equally. In theory, this opens the door to things like tiered network access (where certain kinds of traffic get higher priority), or even attempting to bill large web media properties (i.e. YouTube and Netflix) for the traffic which they carry over their network.

Network problems - Flickr Creative Commons - Jeremiah Roth

Network problems – Flickr Creative Commons – Jeremiah Roth

I believe that the telcos are unlikely to move quickly on this, and will likely initially do some small (and very quiet) experimentation on a local basis.

The reasons are three-fold – firstly, the FCC may yet respond with an updated ruling that complies with the Supreme Court (this is apparently well within their power); secondly, large experiments run the risk of a massive consumer backlash; thirdly, the ultimate strategic outcome is actually quite hard to predict.

The third item on this list is most interesting from a business strategy perspective. Let’s try to game out some possible longer-term outcomes, shall we? Continue reading