This Week’s Book Review – Last Train to Texas

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]

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The “Trumpster” was in my home town…

The only problem is my timing. We went to eat at our local watering hole at 4:15, 1615 for the rest of the world and our military friends. We were returning at 5:25, (that’s 1725), or should I say, attempting to return.

Continue reading “The “Trumpster” was in my home town…”

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Mobile Telephones in the 1940s

Starting in 1946, with a pilot program in St. Louis, Missouri, AT&T launched its Mobile Telephone Service (MTS).  By 1948 the service was available in 100 cities and towns and along highway corridors.  The service ran on 25 VHF radio channels, using half-duplex FM; handsets on mobile installations had a push-to-talk button.  All calls were placed through human operators.  Here is a Bell System promotional film from the late 1940s about the wonders of mobile telephony and how it worked.

... [Read More]

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This Looks Like Fun

It’s called Seabreacher, a two-person semi-submersible water craft with a top speed of 100 km/hour on the surface and 40 km/hour underwater.  It can dive up to 1.5 metres beneath the surface for as long as 30 seconds.  With a sharp pull-up, it can “breach” out of the water as high as 6 metres.  Side sticks provide full three-axis control, and rolls can be performed.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand: The Night Bus

You haven’t lived until you’ve boarded a bus at sunset and trundled through the night to arrive at your destination just after sunrise. Those hot towels the attendant distributes with tongs at six a.m. make it worth the long hours, the bleariness, and the cheap comedies played on the television up front.

No, really. These were special trips.

Because there were two kinds of buses. You could take an orange bus—an “orange crush bus,” as one of the missionaries called it. Any time we did opt for this probably inexpensive Continue reading “Getting Around in Thailand: The Night Bus”

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Tesla Melts Up

Bubble popping cartoonTesla, Inc. (TSLA:NASDAQ), as I noted in a comment a few days ago, then had market capitalisation (stock price times number of shares outstanding) more than three times that of Ford Motor Company (F:NYSE), despite Ford’s revenues being more than seven times those of Tesla and Ford’s FY 2018 earnings of US$ 3.7 billion being somewhat greater than Tesla’s loss of US$ 69 million for FY 2019.

What a difference a few days make!  There now appears to be a cataclysmic short squeeze and/or buying panic in Tesla stock.  Here is a ten minute chart for the last few days.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Sonic Wind

“Sonic Wind” by Craig RyanPrior to the 1920s, most aircraft pilots had no means of escape in case of mechanical failure or accident. During World War I, one out of every eight combat pilots was shot down or killed in a crash. Germany experimented with cumbersome parachutes stored in bags in a compartment behind the pilot, but these often failed to deploy properly if the plane was in a spin or became tangled in the aircraft structure after deployment. Still, they did save the lives of a number of German pilots. (On the other hand, one of them was Hermann Göring.) Allied pilots were not issued parachutes because their commanders feared the loss of planes more than pilots, and worried pilots would jump rather than try to save a damaged plane.

From the start of World War II, military aircrews were routinely issued parachutes, and backpack or seat pack parachutes with ripcord deployment had become highly reliable. As the war progressed and aircraft performance rapidly increased, it became clear that although parachutes could save air crew, physically escaping from a damaged plane at high velocities and altitudes was a formidable problem. The U.S. P-51 Mustang, of which more than 15,000 were built, cruised at 580 km/hour and had a maximum speed of 700 km/hour. It was physically impossible for a pilot to escape from the cockpit into such a wind blast, and even if they managed to do so, they would likely be torn apart by collision with the fuselage or tail an instant later. A pilot’s only hope was that the plane would slow to a speed at which escape was possible before crashing into the ground, bursting into flames, or disintegrating.... [Read More]

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Swiss Army Knife on wheels!

As some of you know, one of my hobbies is model railroading. In following up on that I belong to a few Facebook groups that are in that vein. One is a group called “Switchers and Critters”. Switchers, (in England and a few other places called shunters), are small engines that are used to sort out the rail cars at a railroad yard, to organize them into trains in the order that they may be dropped off. The other, Critters, are a mixed breed, some are shop built, railroad shop that is, for specific purposes or uses. Some are rare special purpose bought by a railroad. In that group I found this “Critter”. With a tip of the Hat to John, I present a Swiss Army Knife on wheels! Seriously this is a vehicle used for maintenance on the Swiss Federal Railway.

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TOTD CMAQ

Traffic signals can operate as a dumb clock. So many seconds of green in this direction, then a yellow clearance interval, then red for that direction while some number of seconds times down for green in the other direction. The engineer sets the times, and then turns it loose.

Old traffic signals in the 1950s operated that way. An electric motor turned a shaft, and on that shaft was a series of cams. Each cam was identified with a signal display. The cam was made with break-off “ears,” so that, as the shaft turned, the cam only made contact with the lead for that display for a portion of the rotation of the shaft.... [Read More]

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I’m happier now…

I have been cleaning my basement of years, (25+), of hording, well sort of hording. In the process I rediscovered a set of three models that I had ordered and were hard to get. They were for my future HO scale railroad. The three were models or kits that when completed would be very accurate renditions of a REAL Steam Shovel. One that was powered by steam! I set these aside knowing they were valuable. When they were available the cost was in the area of $20 each, Now, I don’t know if they are available, but at last look, the company that made them no longer existed.

I went looking for where I put them, sort of wanting to drool over the kits, but I could not find them! I was heart broken, I thought they were mistakenly thrown away or fell into a trash bag and now are a tiny tiny part of landfill.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Three Laws Lethal

“Three Laws Lethal” by David WaltonIn the near future, autonomous vehicles, “autocars”, are available from a number of major automobile manufacturers. The self-driving capability, while not infallible, has been approved by regulatory authorities after having demonstrated that it is, on average, safer than the population of human drivers on the road and not subject to human frailties such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while tired, or distracted by others in the car or electronic gadgets. While self-driving remains a luxury feature with which a minority of cars on the road are equipped, regulators are confident that as it spreads more widely and improves over time, the highway accident rate will decline.

But placing an algorithm and sensors in command of a vehicle with a mass of more than a tonne hurtling down the road at 100 km per hour or faster is not just a formidable technical problem, it is one with serious and unavoidable moral implications. These come into stark focus when, in an incident on a highway near Seattle, an autocar swerves to avoid a tree crashing down on the highway, hitting and killing a motorcyclist in an adjacent lane of which the car’s sensors must have been aware. The car appears to have made a choice, valuing the lives of its passengers: a mother and her two children, over that of the motorcyclist. What really happened, and how the car decided what to do in that split-second, is opaque, because the software controlling it was, as all such software, proprietary and closed to independent inspection and audit by third parties. It’s one thing to acknowledge that self-driving vehicles are safer, as a whole, than those with humans behind the wheel, but entirely another to cede to them the moral agency of life and death on the highway. Should an autocar value the lives of its passengers over those of others? What if there were a sole passenger in the car and two on the motorcycle? And who is liable for the death of the motorcyclist: the auto manufacturer, the developers of the software, the owner of car, the driver who switched it into automatic mode, or the regulators who approved its use on public roads? The case was headed for court, and all would be watching the precedents it might establish.... [Read More]

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I remember when…

I like to tell my kids about how loose things were when I was growing up. My sister and her husband like these little vignettes too. They are ten years younger than me, and a lot of laws/customs changed by the time they got older. Because things are so much different today (and have been for quite some time), they all get a kick out of the following.

Open containers of alcohol in the car. I remember my dad asking his wife to make him a “roadie,” which was their word for a cocktail in a plastic tumbler. They would make their roadies and drink them in the car when taking us out to dinner or going other places in the evenings. Seemed perfectly normal at the time.... [Read More]

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FBI warns about smart TV

FBI warns about smart TVs being ‘gateways for hackers’
Just in time for the busy holiday shopping season, the FBI is dishing out advice on how to keep your home’s tech safe.

I thought this was all a crazy con job, considering the recent reports about the FBI.... [Read More]

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