The “spin-tar” – a new musical instrument

What has more strings than a Rock Ock, spins around like a whirling dervish, and sounds like a cross between a steel drum and an electric violin? Why, a spin-tar, of course.

Somebody stop me if this actually exists. There are a lot of obscure musical instruments in the world, and I’m not an expert. Continue reading

The Millennial Warning Problem

I was thinking about the old problem of how to warn people not to dig open a nuclear waste repository that may be unsafe for an extremely extended period of time. There’s an article on Slate from 2014 here. The problem has been discussed for years though. I remember reading about it when I was a kid.

International radiation warning symbol. Click to view other related symbols on Wikipedia.

In the past, governments have tried crowd-sourcing a solution for a warning sign that will still be understood thousands, or tens of thousands of years in the future.

The problem specifically is that a sign, whether it consists of iconography or text, may not be understandable even after a few generations.

I can’t think of a specific example right now, but I’ve encountered examples of iconography from less than a hundred years ago that I had to look up. That obviously wouldn’t do for a sign warning of imminent danger. There’s worse things than accidentally entering the wrong washroom, after all.

What if, instead of crowd-sourcing the solution, we instead extended the resolution out over time? Time-sourcing it, if you will. Continue reading

Blue Bird Got Da Blues

Blue bird...In case you haven’t heard yet, Dick Costolo is out as CEO at Twitter. I’m an outsider, so I have no idea whether this is deserved or not, but when analysts question a CEO’s tenure publicly, it can easily undermine their stature to the point where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this case, it wasn’t unexpected.

Twitter isn’t profitable, and has lately shown signs of stalling growth. Whoever takes over the reins there (Jack Dorsey is stepping in as interim CEO) is going to be under pressure to “fix” whatever is ailing the company, and fast.

The problems may only have manifested since the IPO, but they aren’t really new though. Here’s something I wrote (I was talking about a spate of Twitter-imitators at the time) four years ago:

I always wonder about sites that are focused on Twitter-like feeds though. To my mind, that functionality basically forms the same purpose as RSS feeds. Its just crying out to be aggregated, and then where does that leave the feed sites, or the individual content creators?

Continue reading

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