Grumman X-29: The impossible fighter jet with inverted wings
> There’s no airplane quite like the Grumman X-29. Its astonishing forward-swept wings were just one of its many bold innovations.
> Created at the height of the Cold War by a conglomerate of giants -- NASA, the US Air Force, the “men in black” at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and aerospace behemoth Grumman -- it first flew in 1984 as part of a quest to build the ultimate fighter jet.
All Penn, No Teller
> Why Penn Jillette kind of makes sense as a tech magazine’s back-page columnist
> But Jillette was something different. He was already famous—certainly more famous than Pournelle, an established science-fiction author, thanks to being a regular fixture on television during much of his career and starring in a legendary Run-DMC music video—and he likely did not need a nationally distributed computer magazine column to make a living. Jillette simply liked computers and knew a lot about them, which meant that he could rant about the details of an Autoexec.bat file just as easily as he can about politics. He gave the tech writing form something of an edge, while maintaining the freewheeling nature established by fellow pre-blogging voices like Pournelle.
Some good quotes and links here.
Reverse-engineering precision op amps from a 1969 analog computer
> We are restoring a vintage1 computer that CuriousMarc recently obtained. Analog computers were formerly popular for fast scientific computation, but pretty much died out in the 1970s. They are interesting, though, as a completely different computing paradigm from digital computers. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on the op amps used in Marc’s analog computer, a Simulators Inc. model 240.
> An analog computer performs computations using physical, continuously changeable values such as voltages. This is in contrast to a digital computer that uses discrete binary values. Analog computers have a long history including gear mechanisms, slide rules, wheel-and-disk integrators, tide computers, and mechanical gun targeting systems. The “classic” analog computers of the 1950s and 1960s, however, used op amps and integrators to solve differential equations. They were typically programmed by plugging cables into a patch panel, yielding a spaghetti-like tangle of wires.
Plus some good references to more about analog computers.
Ken Thompson did some of his early programming on an early analog computer, although I’m unsure of which model.
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
> In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
> The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
> The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
> The history is complicated.
Where oil rigs go to die
> When a drilling platform is scheduled for destruction, it must go on a thousand-mile final journey to the breaker’s yard. As one rig proved when it crashed on to the rocks of a remote Scottish island, this is always a risky business
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What it was like to fly the baddest airplane the world has ever known
> The X-15 was not the first rocket-powered aircraft, but it is probably the best one ever built and flown. Before the first X-15 took flight in the late 1950s, the fastest speed airplanes had reached was Mach 3. The X-15 doubled that. And, remarkably, it also went on to fly into space more than a dozen times.
The Cold War spy technology which we all use
In Memoriam: J. C. R. Licklider
Two papers. Man-Computer Symbiosis and The Computer as a Communication Device.
The first argues for interactive systems. The computer can’t be an extension of our mind if it’s not responsive.
The second is a vision for networked communications. It sounds a lot like today, but more optimistic. Where did we go wrong?
> We present an attack on the encryption key negotiation protocol of Bluetooth BR/EDR. The attack allows a third party, without knowledge of any secret material (such as link and encryption keys), to make two (or more) victims agree on an encryption key with only 1 byte (8 bits) of entropy. Such low entropy enables the attacker to easily brute force the negotiated encryption keys, decrypt the eavesdropped ciphertext, and inject valid encrypted messages (in real-time). The attack is stealthy because the encryption key negotiation is transparent to the Bluetooth users. The attack is standard-compliant because all Bluetooth BR/EDR versions require to support encryption keys with entropy between 1 and 16 bytes and do not secure the key negotiation protocol. As a result, the attacker completely breaks Bluetooth BR/EDR security without being detected. We call our attack Key Negotiation Of Bluetooth (KNOB) attack.
Smartphones, Except Landlocked
> Phone lines, while not initially designed to transfer binary data, turned out to be a good enough way to do so—up until the 2000s, at least. From sending faxes to browsing the Internet, people relied on effectively the same copper wires they used with Ma Bell-leased telephones. But while most of the personal tech evolved towards greater connectivity, landline phones mostly got better only at the ergonomics of calling and dialing. Today’s Tedium is dedicated to the few ones which dared to be smarter.
Plus this great anecdote:
> The mild criticism (“not proving the success that Sir Alan Sugar had hoped” was all that was ever written about the phone) pushed Sugar to send a message to all 95,000 service subscribers, asking them to send an email to Charles Arthur, the newspaper’s tech editor.
How to wring power from the night air
> Solar power is all very well, but it is available only during daylight hours. If something similarly environmentally friendly could be drawn on during the hours of darkness, that would be a great convenience. Colin Price, an atmospheric scientist at Tel Aviv University, in Israel, wonders if he might have stumbled across such a thing. As he told a meeting of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, held in Montreal in July, it may be possible to extract electricity directly from damp air—specifically, from air of the sort of dampness (above 60% relative humidity) found after sundown, as the atmosphere cools and its ability to hold water vapour diminishes.
History of VGA cables and DDC and more
The Internet's Old Guard
> So we gathered around a circle of old timers and listened to them reminisce. The man who’d called the gathering guided the conversation. It slowly dawned on me that he was Lee Felsenstein, who’d set up the first public-access computer in Berkeley and helped start the Homebrew Computer Club, which incubated Apple and the personal computer. He was managing this conversation with the skills he’d learned from moderating the HCC meetings for years. I’d read about his story in Steven Levy’s book Hackers. Sometimes you’re reminded that history isn’t something that happened elsewhere, it’s an ongoing story we’re still living in.
Plus some other characters.
Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?
> The bicycle, as we know it today, was not invented until the late 1800s. Yet it was a simple mechanical invention. It would seem to require no brilliant inventive insight, and certainly no scientific background.
Well, not exactly.
Why Nasa’s next Moon mission can’t be an Apollo retread
> There is a familiar question asked of politicians, entrepreneurs and innovators: if you were to do it all again, what would you do differently?
> At Nasa headquarters, they’re fielding almost the opposite inquiry. Why don’t you just do it the same? If you managed to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon five decades ago, why is it so hard to do it now?
How to Share Your Knowledge
> The Pepper’s Ghost illusion was originally used by charlatans to make people think they were looking at the dead, brought back as ghosts, which don’t exist. Now charlatans use the Pepper’s Ghost illusion to make people think they’re looking at the dead, brought back as 3D holographic projections, WHICH ALSO DON’T EXIST!
Advanced Nuclear Power
> The basic idea of a nuclear reactor is really simple. In fact, you could make a toy to explain it to kids.
Samsung TVs should be regularly virus-checked, the company says
> A how-to video on the Samsung Support USA Twitter account demonstrates the more than a dozen remote-control button presses required to access the sub-menu needed to activate the check. It suggested users should carry out the process “every few weeks” to “prevent malicious software attacks”.
How OS/2 Powered the NYC Subway
> Vintage technology has powered the innards of the NYC subway system for decades—and sometimes, it surfaces in interesting ways. This one’s for you, OS/2 fans.