Archive for March, 2011

Radiological Underpreparedness

Nope, this isn’t about what you think it’s about.

In the last week or so, a couple of stories have run in the news about radiation from Japan’s stricken reactors being detected in rainfall in various parts of the United States, as predicted by everyone with a basic understanding of how weather works.

Public Intelligence has a collection of some of these articles here.

This news is not, on the face of things, really exciting, or even all that interesting.

But there’s an interesting little tidbit in there which I think is not just interesting, but alarming – all the more so because some dumbass discussed it in public.
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Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General, Security | on March 29th, 2011 | No Comments »

An MSP430 Dev Board Proposal

The MSP430 is a family of (very!) low-power 16-bit microcontrollers from Texas Instruments, who have been aggressively – if not necessarily successfully – marketing them towards hobbyists for a year or two now. The chips have been slow to gain traction in the hobbyist community for no particularly good reason. I mean, the standard dev board – the ‘Launchpad’ from TI – costs $5 or so, and allows you to program (DIP-package) chips with no extra hardware, which had ought to be mighty attractive when you consider that Arduino boards start around $25, and you need another $20 or more device to program additional chips.

16-bit microcontrollers, supported by GCC, DIP packages, run at up to 16MHz and 16 MIPS… Chips under $3 in single quantities, under a buck each in volume. What’s not to like?

Well, one thing, really. The lack of development boards for the thing.
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on March 24th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Kwik Hits

Today, on a rainy Tuesday in Minnesota, Amazon announced the quarterfinalists of the 2011 Breakthrough Novel Awards. Despite lots of positive comments from the reviewers… Mendacities isn’t among them.

Ah, well.

I had hoped to make it this far, but had no illusions of proceeding any further, so I’m not particularly bothered. I’ve other irons in the fire, future epic failures as-yet unperpetrated on an unsuspecting public, et cetera. :) I apparently got lucky, in that I was reviewed by intelligent, literate readers, so no hard feelings or anything on my part. Horror stories abound on the ABNA forums of worse-than-useless reviews left by people with highly questionable reading comprehension/writing/communication skills. Okay, Sturgeon’s Law says a lot of negative reviews are more than justified, but I’ve seen some purported reviews that attacked authors’ abilities to spell, while themselves being full of egregious typos…

That having been said, for anyone who might happen to care, Mendacities has recently become available for the Nook, directly from Barnes and Noble, as well as – supposedly – through Apple’s iBooks app.

In (possibly) more interesting news, I’m cynically amused by the division between domestic and international reporting on the airstrikes in Libya. Here, it seems the press has been very quick to minimize the US’ involvement in the actions, whereas overseas media seem to be endlessly describing the strikes as “US-led”. Go figure.

Last week, Bruce Schneier linked to some interesting research about “write-printing”, i.e. identifying the authors of anonymous written material through statistical analysis. I haven’t looked at this too closely, but I suspect it wouldn’t be too hard to defeat from either end – i.e. to write an e-mail that was not in your own “style”, or to write an e-mail in someone else’s style, given a few samples to work with. Aspects of this really kind of fascinate me, in part for professional reasons, but I’ve way too many things on my plate right now to poke around at it, alas.

Public Intelligence appears to be down because of a spike in traffic due to the “kill team” article published by Der Spiegel (or more correctly because their host, apparently EuroVPS, suspended them). Hopefully they’ll return with a better provider/server infrastructure soon. If you’re a real geek, you might be interested to check out the reverse-DNS for their IP address; I’d never seen a single IP address with more than one PTR record before…

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on March 22nd, 2011 | No Comments »

Fun(?) Nuke Stuff

As people grow increasingly hysterical over fears of nuclear exposure from Fukushima’s ever-exploding, ever-burning reactors, some interesting ideas and projects are being passed around.

The Radiation Network lists current radiation levels in a half-dozen U.S. locations;

Someone in Marina, California has a geiger counter on Twitter (with graphs here.)

How to make your own homemade radiation detector with – somewhat literally – stuff you probably have laying around the house.

A gamma radiation detector, in a deceptively simple electronic format. (Possible cheap RNG source?)

A Chinese-based effort to design radiation detector kits.

(Many of these links via Hackaday or Twitter.)

Published in: Geekiness | on March 18th, 2011 | No Comments »

Minneapolis Natural Gas Explosion, 17 March 2011

A huge natural gas fire rocked south Minneapolis earlier this morning, forcing a good-sized evacuation, shutting down interstate 35W, and leaving a good-sized hole in the ground. Centerpoint Energy – the local gas company – have been quick to call it a “fire”, while the media seem to prefer the term “explosion”, pointing out that fires don’t leave enormous holes in the ground.

They’re right, of course. They’re just thinking about things wrong.

WCCO TV has been showing aerial footage of the hole/crater, and it’s clear that it contains a large gas main, a storm sewer, and a utility (cable/fiber, probably, possibly electrical) trench.

I think there’s a very good chance that what happened was actually a storm sewer failure, where melting snow and ice from our current warm weather (it reached the low 50s yesterday) leaked/eroded from one of Minneapolis’ notoriously poorly-maintained sewers and washed out a large void under the street, essentially undermining the gas main in the process and subsequently causing it to collapse and fail.

Time will tell whether I’m right or not, but I have high confidence it’ll prove to have been snowmelt washing out a void under the street.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on March 17th, 2011 | No Comments »