How fighting wildfires works

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

In case you were wondering how fighting wildfires works, this video explains the process:

Not as outlandish as the concepts from the 1970s

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Jeff Foust of The Space Review reviews The High Frontier: An Easier Way:

In space, as in other fields, ideas come and go, returning after past failures in the hopes that changes in technology, policy, or economics will allow people to accept a concept they previously rejected. That appears to be the case with space settlements. In the 1970s, “space colonies” were all the rage among space enthusiasts, attracted by the idea proposed by Princeton professor Gerard K. O’Neill that giant habitats, many kilometers in size, would be the best place for humanity to live in space. There were NASA-sponsored studies of space colonies with lavish illustrations of the concepts, and ideas to use such facilities to enable space-based solar power (another idea that comes and goes) and other space industries. But, within a few years the concept faded away, with NASA ending its support and predictions that the Space Shuttle would enable frequent low-cost access to space failing to come true.

In the last few years, though, there’s been a push to bring back the idea, now often called “free space settlements” (avoiding the negative perception many have of “colonies.”) A new book by two space settlement advocates, Tom Marotta and Al Globus, offers an update of sorts of the original space colony concept O’Neill offered decades ago in his book The High Frontier, arguing that such settlements need not be as large and as expensive as O’Neill once thought.

As its subtitle suggests, the authors of The High Frontier: An Easier Way make the case that several changes in the original assumptions that drove the 1970s-era space colony concepts make such settlements more feasible today. One eschews the plan to place settlements at the Earth-Moon L-5 Lagrange point in favor of an equatorial low Earth orbit (ELEO) over the Equator at an altitude of 500 to 600 kilometers. That orbit gives such a facility radiation protection from the Earth’s magnetic field while also avoiding the South Atlantic Anomaly, a major source of charged particles. Doing so, they conclude, drastically reduces the mass needed for radiation protection: from five to ten tons per square meter of the facility’s surface to as little as 10 kilograms.

A second design change is to speed up the rotation rate of the facility needed to produce Earth-equivalent gravity. Previous studies assumed humans could tolerate rotation rates of no more than 1–2 revolutions per minute (RPM), but research suggests people can tolerate speeds of 4 RPM without any long-term consequences. That reduces the diameter of the facility, and hence its mass and cost.

Those changes, coupled with work to reduce launch costs, makes a settlement more feasible — or, at least, less infeasible. An initial concept mentioned in the book, called Kalpana, would be 112 meters in diameter and 112 meters long, weighing about 16,800 metric tons: enough to be carried by a little more than 100 flights of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) vehicle, at least according to designs the company disclosed last year. It’s still an expensive proposition, but one not as outlandish as the concepts from the 1970s.

Flown for recreational purposes over water and uncongested areas

Friday, September 14th, 2018

The Kitty Hawk Flyer does look like fun:

Flyer is Kitty Hawk’s first personal flying vehicle and the first step to make flying part of everyday life.

Flyer is designed to be easy to fly and flown for recreational purposes over water and uncongested areas. In just a couple of hours, you will experience the freedom and exhilaration of flight.

Flyer maintains an altitude of 3 meters/10 feet for our first riders’ flights.

We have adjusted the flight control system to limit the speed to 20 mph for our first riders’ flights.

Flyer creates thrust through all-electric motors that are significantly quieter than any fossil fuel based equivalent. When Flyer is in the air, depending on your distance, it will sound like a lawnmower (50ft) or a loud conversation (250ft).

In the US, Flyer operates under FAA CFR Part 103 – Ultralight. FAA does not require aircraft registration or pilot certification though flight training is highly encouraged. Ultralights may only be flown over uncongested areas.

More false positives among the hypochondriac set

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

The new ECG Apple Watch could do more harm than good:

“Do you wind up catching a few undiagnosed cases? Sure. But for the vast majority of people it will have either no impact or possibly a negative impact by causing anxiety or unnecessary treatment,” says cardiologist Theodore Abraham, director of the UCSF Echocardiography Laboratory. The more democratized you make something like ECG, he says, the more you increase the rate of false positives — especially among the hypochondriac set. “In the case of people who are very type-A, obsessed with their health, and fitness compulsive, you could see a lot of them overusing Apple’s tech to self-diagnose and have themselves checked out unnecessarily.”

The cases in which Apple’s new watch could be most helpful are obvious: People with atrial fibrillation, family histories of heart disease, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and so on. Sometimes, Abraham says, patients come in with vague cardiovascular symptoms that they can’t reproduce during their visit. Folks like that, he says, often require more expensive, prescription-based monitoring systems. If a doctor could ask that kind of patient to record their symptoms on a gadget they already own, that could be a win for the healthcare provider and the patient.

As for everyone else, it’s hard to say what benefit Apple Watch’s on-demand ECG could have, and existing evidence suggests it might actually do more harm than good.

There is, however, the matter of life-saving potential to consider, which AHA president Ivor Benjamin mentioned not once but twice in his presentation at yesterday’s Apple Event. If there’s a silver lining to putting electrocardiograms on every Apple Watch wearer’s wrist, it’s that their data (if they choose to share it — Apple emphasized at the event that your data is yours to do with as you please) could help researchers resolve the uncertainty surrounding ECG screening in seemingly healthy people. Apple’s new wearable might not be the handy heart-health tool it’s advertised as, but it could, with your permission, make you a research subject.

The ability to choose something simpler and more likely to endure

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

Megan McArdle writes to a refrigerator dying young:

It turns out that refrigerators like the My First Fridge — the kind that quietly chug along decade after decade while needing only minor repairs — really are a thing of the past. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average life span of a refrigerator is now just 13 years. And the German environmental agency found that between 2004 and 2013, the proportion of major appliances that had to be replaced in less than five years due to a defect rose from 3.5 percent to 8.3 percent. These days, we do not so much own our appliances as rent them from fate.

How did we become renters in our own homes? Peruse the Web, and you’ll discover a variety of explanations: outsourcing to suppliers who opt for cheapness rather than longevity; fancy computer-controlled features that add fancy problems; faster innovation cycles that leave inadequate time for testing; and government-imposed energy-efficiency standards that require a lot of fiddly engineering to comply with. But essentially, all of them boil down to one word: complexity. The more complicated something is, the more ways it can break.

When you are standing over the corpse of an appliance that died too young, it’s tempting to long for simpler days. But then, simpler isn’t the same as better. Replacement cycles may have shortened, but we can afford to replace our appliances sooner, because prices have fallen so dramatically. In 1979, a basic 17-cubic-foot Kenmore refrigerator cost $469 — or in today’s dollars, $1,735, which would have taken an average worker about 76 hours of labor to earn. It came with an ice maker, automatic defrost and some shelves. The nearest equivalent today has an extra cubic foot of storage, offers humidity-controlled crisper drawers and costs about a third as much to run. At $529, it represents under 20 hours of work at the average wage.

[...]

That’s the irony of modern life in so many ways, multiplying all our choices while taking away the most fundamental one: the ability to choose something simpler and more likely to endure.

Bulk metallic glasses can be readily extruded and 3D-printed

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

The 3-D printing of thermoplastics is highly advanced, but the 3-D printing of metals is still challenging and limited:

The reason being that metals generally don’t exist in a state that they can be readily extruded.

“We have shown theoretically in this work that we can use a range of other bulk metallic glasses and are working on making the process more practical and commercially-usable to make 3-D printing of metals as easy and practical as the 3-D printing of thermoplastics,” said Prof. Schroers.

Unlike conventional metals, bulk metallic glasses (BMGs) have a super-cooled liquid region in their thermodynamic profile and are able to undergo continuous softening upon heating — a phenomenon that is present in thermoplastics, but not conventional metals. Prof. Schroers and colleagues have thus shown that BMGs can be used in 3-D printing to generate solid, high-strength metal components under ambient conditions of the kind used in thermoplastic 3-D printing.

The new work could side-step the obvious compromises in choosing thermoplastic components over metal components, or vice-versa, for a range of materials and engineering applications. Additive manufacturing of metal components has been developed previously, where a powder bed fusion process is used, however this exploits a highly-localized heating source, and then solidification of a powdered metal shaped into the desired structure. This approach is costly and complicated and requires unwieldy support structures that are not distorted by the high temperatures of the fabrication process.

The approach taken by Prof. Schroers and colleagues simplifies additive manufacturing of metallic components by exploiting the unique-amongst-metals softening behavior of BMGs. Paired with this plastic like characteristics are high strength and elastic limits, high fracture toughness, and high corrosion resistance. The team has focused on a BMG made from zirconium, titanium, copper, nickel and beryllium, with alloy formula: Zr44Ti11Cu10Ni10Be25. This is a well-characterized and readily available BMG material.

The team used amorphous rods of 1 millimeter (mm) diameter and of 700mm length. An extrusion temperate of 460 degrees Celsius is used and an extrusion force of 10 to 1,000 Newtons to force the softened fibers through a 0.5mm diameter nozzle. The fibers are then extruded into a 400°C stainless steel mesh wherein crystallization does not occur until at least a day has passed, before a robotically controlled extrusion can be carried out to create the desired object.

(Hat tip to Jonathan Jeckell.)

Fitbit heart data reveals its secrets

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

Fitbit has now logged 150 billion hours’ worth of heart-rate data from tens of millions of people, all over the world:

Fitbit Heart Data 1 Resting Heart Rate by Age

Fitbit Heart Data 2 BMI vs. HR by Gender

Fitbit Heart Data 3 Resting Heart Rate with Exercise

Fitbit Heart Data 4 Activity Effect on Resting Heart Rate by Age

Fitbit Heart Data 5 Resting Heart Rate with Sleep

Fitbit Heart Data 6 Activity vs. Heart Rate by Country

Missile lock-on!

Friday, August 31st, 2018

I was listening to the audio version of David Suarez’s techno-thriller Kill Decision, when the pilot of the good guys’ C-130 announced “missile lock-on!” How exactly does missile lock-on work, and how does the target know it’s locked on?

Aircraft radars typically have two modes: search and track. In search mode, the radar sweeps a radio beam across the sky in a zig-zag pattern. When the radio beam is reflected by a target aircraft, an indication is shown on the radar display. In search mode, no single aircraft is being tracked, but the pilot can usually tell generally what a particular radar return is doing because with each successive sweep, the radar return moves slightly.

[...]

In track mode, the radar focuses its energy on a particular target. Because the radar is actually tracking a target, and not just displaying bricks when it gets a reflection back, it can tell the pilot a lot more about the target.

[...]

An important thing to note is that a radar lock is not always required to launch weapons at a target. For guns kills, if the aircraft has a radar lock on a target, it can accurately gauge range to the target, and provide the pilot with the appropriate corrections for lead and gravity drop, to get an accurate guns kill. Without the radar, the pilot simply has to rely on his or her own judgement.

[...]

And what about missiles? Again, a radar lock is not required. For heat-seeking missiles, a radar lock is only used to train the seeker head onto the target. Without a radar lock, the seeker head scans the sky looking for “bright” (hot) objects, and when it finds one, it plays a distinctive whining tone to the pilot. The pilot does not need radar in this case, he just needs to maneuver his aircraft until he has “good tone,” and then fire the missile. The radar only makes this process faster.

Now, radar-guided missiles come in two varieties: passive and active. Passive radar missiles do require a radar lock, because these missiles use the aircraft’s reflected radar energy to track the target.

Active radar missiles however have their own onboard radar, which locks and tracks a target. But this radar is on a one-way trip, so it’s considerably less expensive (and less powerful) than the aircraft’s radar. So, these missiles normally get some guidance help from the launching aircraft until they fly close enough to the target where they can turn on their own radar and “go active.” (This allows the launching aircraft to turn away and defend itself.) It is possible to fire an active radar missile with no radar lock (so-called “maddog”); in this case, the missile will fly until it’s nearly out of fuel, and then it will turn on its radar and pursue the first target it sees. This is not a recommended strategy if there are friendly aircraft in close proximity to the enemy.

[...]

Radar is just radio waves, and just as your FM radio converts radio waves into sound, so can an aircraft analyze incoming radio signals to figure out who’s doing what. This is called an RWR, or radar warning receiver, and has both a video and audio component.

[...]

Each time a new radar signal is detected, it is converted into an audio wave and played for the pilot. Because different radars “sound” different, pilots learn to recognize different airborne or surface threats by their distinctive tones. The sound is also an important cue to tell the pilot what the radar is doing: If the sound plays once, or intermittently, it means the radar is only painting our aircraft (in search mode). If a sound plays continuously, the radar has locked onto our aircraft and is in track mode, and thus the pilot’s immediate attention is demanded. In some cases, the RWR can tell if the radar is in launch mode (sending radar data to a passive radar-guided missile), or if the radar is that of an active radar-guided missile. In either of these cases, a distinctive missile launch tone is played and the pilot is advised to immediately act to counter the threat. Note that the RWR has no way of knowing if a heat-seeking missile is on its way to our aircraft.

Everything about Stratolaunch is supersized

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Everything about Stratolaunch is supersized:

It has six screaming Pratt & Whitney turbofan jet engines, salvaged from three 747s. Its maximum takeoff weight is 1.3 million pounds. It’s got more than 80 miles of wiring. Most astounding is its 385-foot wingspan, the spec that puts Stratolaunch in the history books.

Stratolaunch

One problem with ground-based rockets is that they can take off from only a small number of facilities, like the Kennedy Space Center or Vandenberg Air Force Base, where competition for launch time creates long delays. A plane-based launch would create new possibilities.

But a plane that big had other challenges. Rutan’s analysis concluded that to deliver the weight of the rocket Elias was talking about—up to 640,000 pounds—you’d need a wingspan of almost 400 feet. That wing had to be strong too. In addition to two fuselages and tons of fuel, it would be carrying a set of jet engines and that massive vehicle. Rutan planned to build the plane from nonmetal composites, rather than aluminum, to keep the weight down, but making the composite strong enough presented another problem. Rutan solved this dilemma in part with a process called pultrusion, in which a machine pulls a material at a constant rate and then bakes it until it hardens, a way to mold huge segments of the plane with a consistent strength. This technique let the engineers manufacture the very long spars that fortify the giant wing.

Rutan began working on a design, even as he realized that the odds were against it ever being built. Using traditional construction methods and materials, the price tag might stretch past a billion, perhaps even reaching the cost of a nuclear aircraft carrier. He figured he could build it more cheaply, especially if he took his scavenger mentality to the limit. “I reasoned that if I could lift out engines, pylons, landing gear, actuators, electricals, and cockpit stuff from 747s, it was doable for us,” he says.

[...]

The team worked to speed up construction by using off-the-shelf parts whenever possible, the most conspicuous example being the repurposing of three 747s. But the surface of the plane had to be created from scratch. “This vehicle has some of the largest composite components ever built in the world, made by hand by fabricators, all made by our guys,” says Jacob Leichtweisz­-Fortier, who works on the plane. The most massive pieces were 285-foot spars that give the wing its resiliency, each one weighing 18,000 pounds. The team first constructed the wing out of the gargantuan spars and built the rest of the plane around it.

The plane’s extreme size led to some unexpected complications: The scaffolding needed to assemble the wing had to be about 40 feet high. “It starts to look like a building,” Stinemetze says. “In fact, the way California treats it, it is a building. It has to meet codes for sprinklers and electrical power.” When the plane was ready to emerge from its scaffolding and get towed out of the hangar, just lowering it 2 feet to the ground took eight hours, Floyd says.

[...]

Sharing their road map publicly for the first time, Thornburg and Floyd laid out their plans for Stratolaunch: Its first custom rocket ship will be considerably bigger than the Pegasus, able to transport multiple satellites or other payloads. This medium-size rocket is nicknamed Kraken, after the legendary Icelandic sea monster. Floyd says customers will be able to use it to get satellites into low Earth orbit for less than $30 million, a competitive price and about half of what SpaceX charges for a launch of its Falcon 9 rocket. Floyd estimates that Kraken will be operational in 2022.

Release the Kraken!

Quickly breach without heat or sparks

Monday, August 20th, 2018

I feel like I need a PyroLance now:

Why does tech have so many political problems?

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Why does tech have so many political problems? Tyler Cowen suggests some reasons:

  • Most tech leaders aren’t especially personable. Instead, they’re quirky introverts. Or worse.
  • Most tech leaders don’t care much about the usual policy issues. They care about AI, self-driving cars, and space travel, none of which translate into positive political influence.
  • Tech leaders are idealistic and don’t intuitively understand the grubby workings of WDC.
  • People who could be “managers” in tech policy areas (for instance, they understand tech, are good at coalition building, etc.) will probably be pulled into a more lucrative area of tech. Therefore there is an acute talent shortage in tech policy areas.
  • The Robespierrean social justice terror blowing through Silicon Valley occupies most of tech leaders’ “political” mental energy. It is hard to find time to focus on more concrete policy issues.
  • By nature, tech leaders are disagreeable iconoclasts (with individualistic and believe it or not sometimes megalomaniacal tendencies). That makes them bad at uniting as a coalition.
  • The industry is so successful that it’s not very popular among the rest of U.S. companies and it lacks allies. (90%+ of S&P 500 market cap appreciation this year has been driven by tech.) Many other parts of corporate America see tech as a major threat.

Microfilm has a future?

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Microfilm is profoundly unfashionable in our modern information age, but it has quite a history — and may still have a future:

The first micrographic experiments, in 1839, reduced a daguerreotype image down by a factor of 160. By 1853, the format was already being assessed for newspaper archives. The processes continued to be refined during the 19th century. Even so, microfilm was still considered a novelty when it was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia of 1876.

The contemporary microfilm reader has multiple origins. Bradley A. Fiske filed a patent for a “reading machine” on March 28, 1922, a pocket-sized handheld device that could be held up to one eye to magnify columns of tiny print on a spooling paper tape. But the apparatus that gained traction was G. L. McCarthy’s 35mm scanning camera, which Eastman Kodak introduced as the Rekordak in 1935, specifically to preserve newspapers. By 1938, universities began using it to microfilm dissertations and other research papers. During World War II, microphotography became a tool for espionage, and for carrying military mail, and soon there was a recognition that massive archives of information and cross-referencing gave agencies an advantage. Libraries adopted microfilm by 1940, after realizing that they could not physically house an increasing volume of publications, including newspapers, periodicals, and government documents. As the war concluded in Europe, a coordinated effort by the U.S. Library of Congress and the U.S. State Department also put many international newspapers on microfilm as a way to better understand quickly changing geopolitical situations. Collecting and cataloging massive amounts of information, in microscopic form, from all over the world in one centralized location led to the idea of a centralized intelligence agency in 1947.

It wasn’t just spooks and archivists, either. Excited by the changing future of reading, in 1931, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, F. W. Marinetti, and 40 other avant-garde writers ran an experiment for Bob Brown’s microfilm-like reading machine. The specially processed texts, called “readies,” produced something between an art stunt and a pragmatic solution to libraries needing more shelf space and better delivery systems. Over the past decade, I have redesigned the readies for 21st-century reading devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.

By 1943, 400,000 pages had been transferred to microfilm by the U.S. National Archives alone, and the originals were destroyed. Millions more were reproduced and destroyed worldwide in an effort to protect the content from the ravages of war. In the 1960s, the U.S. government offered microfilm documents, especially newspapers and periodicals, for sale to libraries and researchers; by the end of the decade, copies of nearly 100,000 rolls (with about 700 pages on each roll) were available.

Their longevity was another matter. As early as May 17, 1964, as reported in The New York Times, microfilm appeared to degrade, with “microfilm rashes” consisting of “small spots tinged with red, orange or yellow” appearing on the surface. An anonymous executive in the microfilm market was quoted as saying they had “found no trace of measles in our film but saw it in the film of others and they reported the same thing about us.” The acetate in the film stock was decaying after decades of use and improper storage, and the decay also created a vinegar smell—librarians and researchers sometimes joked about salad being made in the periodical rooms. The problem was solved by the early 1990s, when Kodak introduced polyester-based microfilm, which promised to resist decay for at least 500 years.

Microfilm got a competitor when National Cash Register (NCR), a company now known for introducing magnetic-strip and electronic data-storage devices in the late 1950s and early ’60s, marketed Carl O. Carlson’s microfiche reader in 1961. This storage system placed more than 100 pages on one four-by-six-inch sheet of film in a grid pattern. Because microfiche was introduced much later than microfilm, it played a reduced role in newspaper preservation and government archives; it was more widely used in emerging computer data-storage systems. Eventually, electronic archives replaced microfiche almost entirely, while its cousin microfilm remained separate.

Microfilm’s decline intensified with the development of optical-character-recognition (OCR) technology. Initially used to search microfilm in the 1930s, Emanuel Goldberg designed a system that could read characters on film and translate them into telegraph code. At MIT, a team led by Vannevar Bush designed a microfilm rapid selector capable of finding information rapidly on microfilm. Ray Kurzweil further improved OCR, and by the end of the 1970s, he had created a computer program, later bought by Xerox, that was adopted by LexisNexis, which sells software for electronically storing and searching legal documents.

[...]

Today’s digital searches allow a reader to jump directly to a desired page and story, eliminating one downside of microfilm. But there’s a trade-off: Digital documents usually omit the context. The surrounding pages in the morning paper or the rest of the issue of a magazine or journal vanish when a single, specific article can be retrieved directly. That context includes more than a happenstance encounter with an abutting news story. It also includes advertisements, the position and size of one story in relation to others, and even the overall design of the page at the time of its publication. A digital search might retrieve what you are looking for (it also might not!), but it can obscure the historical context of that material.

xkcd Digital Resource Lifespan

The devices are still in widespread use, and their mechanical simplicity could help them last longer than any of the current electronic technologies. As the web comic xkcd once observed, microfilm has better lasting power than websites, which often vanish, or CD-roms, for which most computers don’t have readers anymore.

The xkcd comic gets a laugh because it seems absurd to suggest microfilm as the most reliable way to store archives, even though it will remain reliable for 500 years. Its lasting power keeps it a mainstay in research libraries and archives. But as recent cutting-edge technologies approach ever more rapid obsolescence, past (and passed-over) technologies such as the microfilm machine won’t go away. They’ll remain, steadily doing the same work they have done for the past century for another five more at least — provided the libraries they are stored in stay open, and the humans that would read and interpret their contents survive.

Google was not a normal place

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Google was not a normal place, as this disjointed excerpt from Valley of Genius explains:

Charlie Ayers, Google’s first executive chef and, therefore, a member of an early executive team: I remember going in for an interview and Larry bounced on by on one of these big balls that have handles on them, like you buy at Toys “R” Us when you’re a kid. It was just a very unprofessional, uncorporation attitude. I have a pretty good understanding of doing things differently from the Grateful Dead—I’ve worked on and off with them over the years—but from my perspective, looking from the outside, it was an odd interview. I’d never had one like that. I left them thinking that these guys are crazy. They don’t need a chef!

Heather Cairns: I was very surprised that they hired this ex–Grateful Dead chef, since clearly everything that goes with that is coming with Charlie. Talk about a counterculture person!

Charlie Ayers: Larry’s dad was a big Deadhead; he used to run the Grateful Dead-hour talk show on the radio every Sunday night. Larry grew up in the Grateful Dead environment.

Larry Page: We do go out of our way to recruit people who are a little bit different.

Charlie Ayers: There was no under-my-thumb bullshit going on where you all had to dress and look and smell and act alike. Their unwritten tagline is like: You show up in a suit? You’re not getting hired! I remember people that they wanted showing up in suits and them saying, “Go home and change and be yourself and come back tomorrow.”

Heather Cairns: We said it was O.K. to bring pets to work one day a week. And what that did was encourage people to get lizards, cats, dogs—oh my God, everything was coming through the door! I was mortified because I know this much: if you have your puppy at work, you’re not working that much.

Douglas Edwards, Google employee #59: We would go up to Squaw Valley, C.A., and attendance was pretty much mandatory. That became the company thing.

Ray Sidney: The very first ski trip was in the first part of 1999. That was definitely a popular event over the years.

Charlie Ayers: On the ski trips in Squaw Valley, I would have these unsanctioned parties and finally the company was like, “All right, we’ll give Charlie what he wants.” And I created Charlie’s Den. I had live bands, D.J.s, and we bought truckloads of alcohol and a bunch of pot and made ganja goo balls. I remember people coming up to me and saying, “I’m hallucinating. What the fuck is in those?” . . . Larry and Sergey had like this gaggle of girls who were hot, and all become like their little harem of admins, I call them the L&S Harem, yes. All those girls are now different heads of departments in that company, years later. (A spokesperson for Google declined to comment.)

Heather Cairns: You kind of trusted Larry with his personal life. We always kind of worried that Sergey was going to date somebody in the company . . .

Charlie Ayers: Sergey’s the Google playboy. He was known for getting his fingers caught in the cookie jar with employees that worked for the company in the masseuse room. He got around.

Heather Cairns: And we didn’t have locks, so you can’t help it if you walk in on people if there’s no lock. Remember, we’re a bunch of twentysomethings except for me—ancient at 35, so there’s some hormones and they’re raging.

Charlie Ayers: H.R. told me that Sergey’s response to it was, “Why not? They’re my employees.” But you don’t have employees for fucking! That’s not what the job is.

Heather Cairns: Oh my God: this is a sexual harassment claim waiting to happen! That was my concern.

Charlie Ayers: When Sheryl Sandberg joined the company is when I saw a vast shift in everything in the company. People who came in wearing suits were actually being hired.

Heather Cairns: When Eric Schmidt joined, I thought, Well, now, we have a chance. This guy is serious. This guy is real. This guy is high-profile. And of course he had to be an engineer, too. Otherwise, Larry and Sergey wouldn’t have it.

Selling Ghost Gunners has been a lucrative business

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Crypto-provocateur Cody Wilson recently won his legal battle — the Department of Justice quietly offered him a settlement to end a lawsuit he and a group of co-plaintiffs had pursued since 2015 — and now posting gun designs online is recognized as free speech:

The Department of Justice’s surprising settlement, confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument. It promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber — with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition — and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won’t try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public internet.

[...]

Now Wilson is making up for lost time. Later this month, he and the nonprofit he founded, Defense Distributed, are relaunching their website Defcad.com as a repository of firearm blueprints they’ve been privately creating and collecting, from the original one-shot 3-D-printable pistol he fired in 2013 to AR-15 frames and more exotic DIY semi-automatic weapons. The relaunched site will be open to user contributions, too; Wilson hopes it will soon serve as a searchable, user-generated database of practically any firearm imaginable.

[...]

In the meantime, selling Ghost Gunners has been a lucrative business. Defense Distributed has sold roughly 6,000 of the desktop devices to DIY gun enthusiasts across the country, mostly for $1,675 each, netting millions in profit.

[...]

With the rule change their win entails, Defense Distributed has removed a legal threat to not only its project but an entire online community of DIY gunmakers. Sites like GrabCAD and FossCad already host hundreds of gun designs, from Defense Distributed’s Liberator pistol to printable revolvers and even semiautomatic weapons. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in doing things yourself, and it’s also a way of expressing support for the Second Amendment,” explains one prolific Fosscad contributor, a West Virginian serial inventor of 3-D-printable semiautomatics who goes by the pseudonym Derwood. “I’m a conservative. I support all the amendments.”

[...]

Inside is a far quieter scene: A large, high-ceilinged, dimly fluorescent-lit warehouse space filled with half a dozen rows of gray metal shelves, mostly covered in a seemingly random collection of books, from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to Hunger Games. He proudly points out that it includes the entire catalog of Penguin Classics and the entire Criterion Collection, close to 900 Blu-rays. This, he tells me, will be the library.

And why is Defense Distributed building a library? Wilson, who cites Baudrillard, Foucault, or Nietzsche at least once in practically any conversation, certainly doesn’t mind the patina of erudition it lends to what is essentially a modern-day gun-running operation. But as usual, he has an ulterior motive: If he can get this room certified as an actual, official public library, he’ll unlock another giant collection of existing firearm data. The US military maintains records of thousands of the specs for thousands of firearms in technical manuals, stored on reels and reels of microfiche cassettes. But only federally approved libraries can access them. By building a library, complete with an actual microfiche viewer in one corner, Wilson is angling to access the US military’s entire public archive of gun data, which he eventually hopes to digitize and include on Defcad.com, too.

Liquid fluorine is spectacular

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

There was a time when rocket designers felt comfortable proposing propellants that would be considered insane today:

One of these was fluorine, an oxidizer so powerful that it will oxidize oxygen. Liquified it is denser than LOX and provides a higher specific impulse than LOX when burned with the same fuels. On paper, liquid fluorine is spectacular. In reality, fluorine is toxic and just about all of the combustion compounds are toxic (burn it with hydrogen and you get hydrofluoric acid, which will eat your bones). Fluorine has the added bonus that it will merrily combust with a whole lot of structural materials, so you have to be careful in your design and preparation for tanks, pumps, lines, etc.

Consequently, it was important to know your stuff. To that end, Douglas Missile & Space Systems Division produced a Fluorine Systems Handbook.