Worm wars

Worm wars

“We seem to have a botwar on our hands,” Hypponen said. “There appears to be three different virus-writing gangs turning out new worms at an alarming rate — as if they would be competing who would build the biggest network of infected machines.”

What color is your paradigm?

Barbara Ehrenreich savages the current crop of business self-help books in: Who Moved My Ability to Reason?

Chapters are often embedded with simple exercises you can perform at home, like this one from ‘Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’: “Place your hand on your heart and say . . . ‘I admire rich people! I bless rich people! I love rich people! And I’m going to be one of those rich people too!’ “

Where did the future go?

Another story on one of my favorite topics. The Wall Street Journal mourns the future that never was in: Requiem for the Future. Instead of moon bases and spaceports, we have the occasional robot to Mars and the now grounded space shuttle.

The biggest accomplishments of the Discovery mission were that a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.

The shuttle was first designed in 1969, and first flew in 1981. Who drives a 24 year old car these days? Still, it could be worse. The US air force is still flying B-52s.

Contrast this quarter-century of near-stasis with the technological revolution that’s remade our daily lives. When we were kids, computers were hulking things off in universities that chattered and blinked mysteriously before spitting out reams of paper. Today, we feel guilty about putting exponentially more-powerful machines than those out on the curb. […] We have Web-enabled phones in our pockets, instant messaging at the office and can shop in our skivvies at 3 a.m. Wonders upon wonders — it’s only up in the heavens that we’re a generation behind.

Dating Truisms

Some dating truisms from Defective Yeti:

  1. No woman, in the history of courtship, has ever uttered the phrase “he’s a really great guy” and not followed it with the word “but.”
  2. Getting involved with a girl who has stuffed animals in the back window of her car is rarely a good idea.
  3. If a guy introduces you to a girl and says, “We were just good friends,” they weren’t. Watch out, they probably still aren’t.
  4. Never date outside of your political party in an election year.
  5. Don’t ever be the “other people” in “We’re seeing other people.”

Jonny Lang

Last Wednesday, I went to Villa Montalvo with some friends to see Jonny Lang. He’s a 24 year old blues and pop musician who’s been getting some airplay for his album “Long Time Coming”. He put on a good show, and of course the venue was as beautiful as always. But he sure attracted a different crowd than Keb Mo did back in June.

A lot of women in the audience were especially excited to see Jonny. They screamed and yelled “Marry me, Jonny”. Too bad, ladies – he’s been married 4 years already. Now I’m sure he’s cute, but not that cute. Maybe he just brings out the maternal instinct in rich Saratoga socialite women.

The high point of the concert was when two young women rushed the stage during one of Jonny’s piano solos. They danced around and laid a necklace around his neck before security hustled them off the stage. “Security” at Villa Montalvo being a matronly woman in Bermuda shorts carrying a walkie-talkie. It’s like having your mom chaperone the high school dance.

Einstein never stopped for directions

It’s (ahem) a bit of a stretch, but Lawrence Krauss explains how the long arm of Einstein guides my steering wheel. Without Einstein’s theory of general relativity, we would not be able to account for clocks on satellites running slower than on earth. And very precise clocks are needed for today’s GPS navigation systems. Something to think about on the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miracle year” of 1905, in which he published 5 papers that changed the world.

Hill work

On Sunday, some friends and I rode from Los Gatos to Boulder Creek. It’s a more than 50 mile ride, made tougher because it’s hills all the way. According to the folks at Almaden Cycle Touring Club, the route has over 4000 feet of climbing. It’s good practice for our upcoming High Sierra Century in September.

The nice thing about turning around in Boulder Creek is that it gave us an excuse to get coffee and pastries at the cafe in town. Refueling and caffeinating made the ride back much easier.

Hwy 9 profile from ACTC

Shuttle woes continue

As we all now know, the space shuttle’s return to flight was not the great success that NASA had hoped for. After spending over 2 years and a billion dollars, NASA still has not been able to solve the problem of insulating foam flaking off the shuttle’s external fuel tank. It was a 1.6 pound chunk of foam falling off the tank that punched a hole in Columbia’s wing, leading to the loss of that shuttle and all aboard in 2003.

As a result of hundreds of cameras and radar that NASA trained on Discovery’s launch, the agency knew that they had problems even before Discovery reached orbit. A piece of foam weighing almost a pound broke off the external tank, but did not seem to strike the orbiter. The astronauts then spent several days searching for potential problems on the orbiter. Fortunately, they were able to resolve the problems in a couple of space walks. Meanwhile, NASA suspended all further launches of the shuttle, until they can track down the cause.

What’s especially frustrating is that the biggest chunk of foam broke off the area around the external tank’s PAL ramp. The tank’s ramps had received special attention, since the chunk that doomed Columbia broke off one of the ramp areas.

In the days since, I kept wondering how NASA had miscalculated so badly.

  • Why didn’t they test their tank insulation in a wind tunnel?
    Actually, they did, but no wind tunnel can duplicate the extreme temperatures and pressures that the shuttle goes through in hypersonic flight.
  • Then why not coat the foam in a hard shell, so that it can’t break off?
    It turns out that on such a big tank, even a thin coating of paint adds a huge amount of weight. Apparently NASA even considered, and rejected, attaching some kind of netting to the outside of the insulation, to keep big chunks from flying off.

The agency has said they intend to retire the shuttle fleet by 2010. But they still don’t have a viable replacement. NASA needs something like the shuttle to carry large components of the International Space Station into orbit. Some aerospace companies have proposed alternatives that reuse shuttle components in new configurations. And the Russians recently demonstrated a mockup of their own shuttle design, the Clipper, to replace the Soyuz capsules that service the space station.

Yet despite all our efforts, it seems that manned space flight is a risky business. I remember talking to Dave Williams, one of Canada’s astronauts, at a reunion last year. He had flown Columbia into orbit in 1998. He described how he and the other astronauts helped search for and recover remains of the Columbia crew after the accident. It was a difficult task, made all the harder because it was their friends and co-workers that they were searching for. And yet, given a chance, he would love to fly into space again.