Geek stuff

One big surprise from Michael Leinbach and Jonathan Ward’s Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew is the claim that people at NASA hadn’t anticipated the catastrophic loss of a Shuttle during reentry. That despite of the delicacy of the thermal protective tiles and the fatal consequences expected […]

{ 0 comments }

Today I received Bathsheba‘s Tetrabox: a 3d-printed steel sculpture which is also a puzzle held together with magnets. At a minimum, it has what I think of as ‘tips forward‘ and ‘tips around‘ solutions. For the first, all three of the asymmetrical pieces have their extended tips pointing toward the one symmetrical piece, allowing the […]

{ 0 comments }

De-anonymization is an important topic for anyone working with sensitive data, whether in the context of academic research, IT system design, or otherwise. I remember a talk during a Massey Grand Rounds panel where a medical researcher explained how she could pick herself out from an ‘anonymous’ database of Ontarians, on the basis that her […]

{ 1 comment }

One of my main strategies for organizing information is to create databases for subjects of interest. I’m using the term in the broad Wikipedia sense of “an organized collection of data, stored and accessed electronically” here, and it includes everything from a single folder where PDF versions of all the references cited in a particular […]

{ 1 comment }

LOX and RP-1 never burn absolutely clean, and there is always a bit of free carbon in the exhaust, which produces a luminous flame. So when you’re looking at TV and see a liftoff from Cape Kennedy—or from Baikonur for that matter—and the exhaust flame is very bright, you can be sure the propellants are […]

{ 0 comments }

Finally somebody in authority sat down and thought the problem through. The specifications of JP-4 [jet fuel] were as sloppy as they were to insure a large supply of the stuff under all circumstances. But Jupiter and Thor [ballistic missiles] were designed and intended to carry nuclear warheads, and it dawned upon the thinker that […]

{ 0 comments }

[Calculating rocket fuel performance mathematically] gets worse exponentially as the number of different elements and the number of possible species [of reaction products] increases. With a system containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, you may have to consider fifteen species or more. And if you toss in boron, say, or aluminum, and perhaps a little […]

{ 0 comments }

A tweet of mine, written in a moment of irritability aggravated by the sound of jets roaring overhead, has gotten some attention by virtue of being incorporated into some news articles about social media commentary on the Toronto Air Show. In addition to my standard gripes about the wastefulness of jet engine use, the undesirability […]

{ 3 comments }

Why is trustworthy computer security impossible for ordinary users? In part because the system has multiple levels at which failure can occur, from hardware to operating systems and software. Spectre and Meltdown show that no matter how careful you are about the operating sytem and software you run you can still be attacked using the […]

{ 3 comments }

There are some good discussions online about the relative merits of different types of software for writing long scholarly documents like a PhD thesis. For instance, Amrys O. Williams’ “Why you should LaTeX your dissertation; or, why you don’t have to write your dissertation in Word“. I’ve seen the plusses and minuses of using LaTeX […]

{ 0 comments }