Space Elevator

Via (ultimately) Electrolite, I just came across a wonderful blog dedicated to the Space Elevator. If you’ve never come across the space elevator idea before, it’s basically a giant cable that stretches vertically from the equator right up into space. Strap some powered cargo or passenger capsules to the cable, and you’ve got an express lift to geostationary orbit–and beyond.

The surprising thing about the space elevator is how damn feasible it is. It sounds insane at first, but the physics behind it is simple. And although building the cable would be expensive, once it is in place, it is vastly cheaper at lifting stuff into orbit than conventional rockets.

Yes, there are technical issues to overcome before we could actually build one in real life, but they are mostly in the realms of materials science and engineering. Primarily, it’s a question of creating a material that is strong, light, and cheap enough to make the cable. But there are no fundamental theoretical hurdles to overcome.

The blog features a great paper by Arthur C. Clarke that explains the theory of the space elevator, some of its practical issues, and the history of the idea: “The Space Elevator: ‘Thought Experiment’, or Key to the Universe?” (Note that this is a paper from 1981. The space elevator idea has been around for a long time.) Two novels that give an excellent treatment of the concept are Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.

A reviews blog (or sidebar reviews) with Movable Type

I often get depressed about the fact that, on average, I read less than a book a week. That’s less than 52 books a year! Compared to the thousands of new books published each year, and hundreds of thousands more already in or out of print, 52 seems like a vanishingly small number. I feel like I have to make those 52 count.

Around this time last year I decided to do a “reading list” in my sidebar. Originally, it was just going to be a simple way for me to keep track of the books I’d read. I’d be able to browse through the list at the end of the year, and maybe compile a list of favourites. Friends and family who read my blog could also see the list and find out what was catching my fancy. I’d seen various other bloggers with reading lists in their sidebars. With Movable Type as my blogging back-end, it would be fairly straightforward to set up “reading list” sidebar in the same way as some people do sidebar links.

But then I realised that I could do more with the format…. I could track films I’d seen as well. With a little more effort I could write a short paragraph about the book or film to remind me what I thought about it at the time. How about giving them ratings as well? And by hooking in to Amazon I could add images to the mini-reviews so that people could see a book’s cover, and hop over to Amazon to see what other people thought of it.

And so the “Quick Reviews” sidebar was born.

The rest of this article will explain how to use Movable Type to set up a “Quick Reviews” blog or sidebar of your own. This certainly isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s relatively simple and tidy. There are no extra CGI scripts to install, no new database tables to create in your MT installation, and no kooky javascript or PHP files to scatter around your templates.

Please don’t be put off by the length of the article. It’s long because the technique takes some time to explain. But if you’ve installed Movable Type, then you’re capable of setting up a reviews blog. I’ve also tried to explain why each step works the way it does, so that you’ll be better placed to do your own customizations afterwards.

Continue reading “A reviews blog (or sidebar reviews) with Movable Type”

Hotmail spam

Is it just me, or has Hotmail suddenly got much better about trapping spam? I used to get about 6 or 7 spam messages a day in my Hotmail inbox, but in the last three weeks there has been nothing at all.

The volume of junk mail hasn’t decreased. I’m still getting the same number of messages, but now every one of them is getting routed straight into my “Junk” folder, and is automatically deleted after a week. I haven’t noticed any real email disappearing into the void, either.

New Barenaked Ladies Album

According to the Barenaked Ladies mailing list, the band have a new album, Everything to Everyone coming out on October 21st. I was reading the BNL’s blog while they were recording the album, and it’ll be interesting to see some of the things they were talking about there in their finished form. It’s a shame they haven’t kept on using the blog since then.

No tour information yet. But if they hit Scotland again, sign me up for a bunch o’ tickets. They were fantastic last time!

BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 2)

My crazy rant about BT’s Midband internet service yesterday wasn’t completely out of the blue. I have spent time with the product. Too much time, in fact. It took me about an hour to wade through BT’s hundreds of customer service and sales numbers to even order Midband. And then I spent three and a half fruitless hours on Saturday trying to get it to work. And failing.

I’m going to be cutting and cruel to BT in the rest of this article, but I do have to give them some credit up front: after spending 20 minutes on hold to their dedicated Midband Technical support help line, the woman I spoke to was top notch. I’ve dealt with a lot of helpdesk operators in my time, but never has first-level support been so clued-up and helpful. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe the Midband people are all like this. Whatever the case, I was very impressed. (The conclusion we eventually came to was that there was too much line noise. An engineer is being dispatched to investigate.)

Anyway, on with the disaster movie.

Continue reading “BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 2)”

BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 1)

If you’re unfortunate enough not to live in an area covered by cable or BT’s sporadic ADSL service, you used to be limited to dial-up. But the British government and communication regulators have been very keen to show that Britain is “showing global leadership” with regard to the adoption of broadband. So BT (provider of the UK’s telephone infrastructure) has been urged to speed up their roll-out plans, and to look into alternative technologies to serve hard-to-reach areas (like Scotland).

Hence: Midband. Midband is neither dial-up nor broadband, but a demented hybrid that combines the worst aspects of both, and then discards any vestiges of quality the sickly offspring might have retained. In fact, it’s ISDN. The meeting where the service was green-lighted must have gone something like this:

Senior Executive #1: Guys, we need to bridge the gap between dial-up and broadband. We can’t get broadband out to remote areas quickly enough, and if we don’t show some progress soon, I’ll be in danger of losing my six-figure bonus.

Senior Executive #2: It’s worse than that–some members of the board think they might miss out on a knighthood in the next honours list!

Senior Executive #1: Jesus.

Pause for deep thought and reflection upon the fickle nature of job security.

Junior Executive: Hey, why don’t we part-upgrade all the remote exchanges to something cheaper but slower than real broadband? We could call it, I don’t know, Midband?

Senior Executive #2: Mmm, nice. But we’d have to go back and re-upgrade all of the exchanges later. Future costs against current benefits. I’m not sure if the board would go for it.

Senior Executive #1: I like that Midband name, though.

Senior Executive #2: Catchy.

Continue reading “BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 1)”