Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The good, the bad, and the carbon-intensive

In my recent trip to California, one of my stops -- all but mandatory for a person with my background -- was the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Short version: The museum is very well done.

Now that's a disk drive!
Longer version: This museum has one heck of a collection. Hardware from throughout my education and (first) career is well represented. Keypunch machines and an IBM 360 mainframe. Chunks from the ILLIAC IV, an early massively parallel supercomputer (and due to its Defense funding at the height of the Vietnam War, a cause for massive demonstrations during my freshman year at the University of Illinois). One kilobit(!) memory chips. DEC minis. (I go back, IIRC, only to PDP-8s, but the museum also has a PDP-1.) Atari's Pong. A Cray-1. Lots more. Seriously cool.

Steampunker's delight
Not to be topped in terms of showmanship -- and certain to delight steampunk fans as well as computer aficionados -- is the modern implementation of the wholly mechanical Babbage Difference Engine. It calculates polynomials. It's programmable. It prints -- with word wrap. Now consider that Charles Babbage died in 1871 ...

(And on that last link, check out the video! The real machine is more than man-tall, weighs five tons, and clatters most impressively as it operates.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Faster than a speeding photon

I'm just home from a trip to California -- at no point traveling at anywhere near the pace suggested by the subject line. I went for SFWA's annual Nebula Awards. (This year's Nebula winners here, courtesy of SFScope.)

I wasn't in the running this cycle for a Nebula, but I am delighted to have come home with a different award.

Regular visitors here at SF and Nonsense will remember that I write frequently for Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Mostly those Analog appearances are fiction, but (as befits a physicist and computer engineer with thirty years experience in IT and aerospace) I also sometimes contribute science and technology articles.

In the Analog Readers Poll for 2011, I came in second place -- tied with myself! -- for best fact article. Those runner-up pieces were for "Lost in Space? Follow the Money" (about the retirement of the space-shuttle fleet and the dawning era of commercialized spaceflight) and “Say What? Ruminations About Language, Communications, and Science Fiction” (a title that explains itself).

"Making Appearances Frequently In Analog"

For 2012, I'm pleased to say that in the fact-article category, my “Faster Than a Speeding Photon: The Why, Where, and (Perhaps the) How of Faster-Than-Light Technology" took first place in the readers poll. I suspect the scope of that article is pretty self-evident, too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something for everyone

Is Glass half empty or half full?
Think you're ready for Google Glass? Maybe think again. See "Google Glass: A Treat for Hackers":

The report said that hackers will also be able to monitor Google Glass' users' activities on their smartphones ... 
How about another cutting-edge personal product: a smart watch? Maybe what's old is new again. Check out "8 myths about the smartwatch revolution."

Let's move on to more revolutionary tech. I've long been fascinated with nanotechnology (an interest best illustrated by my 2009 novel of medical nanotech: Small Miracles). One of my primary research sources was K. Eric Drexler, commonly credited with bringing nanotech to public attention through his 1987 (and still quite popular) book "Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The road to hell ...

You can complete that adage, right?

On occasion, that road might be literal. See "Pluto's Gate Uncovered in Turkey." In the Latin, Plutonium. Considering the element plutonium -- highly radioactive, maker of big booms, and chemically toxic -- that's a very apt name even today.

Is the Internet your world? Here are some key finding of the Spamhaus attack that for a short while brought down much of said world. See, "Massive cyberattack: Here's what happened (Q & A)." (How big a deal was this? "At the peak of the attack, it was generating 300 gigabits per second of traffic."

Maybe your idea of the apocalypse involves rogue robots.