It’s Spaceship Three

Not really. What’s resurfaced in a press release and is being discussed at slashdot is that Spaceship Three, from Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic (no lack of ambition evident in that name…) is intended to be an orbital craft. While I agree that SS1 can’t simply be scaled up to an orbital vehicle without significant work in materiel and engines (among other things, the total thrust is significantly higher to get into orbit, as well as the deceleration and heat), it will still be interesting to see what the X-prize model of development will bring forth from SC and other competitors.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…..

An article from the University of florida about an engineer who has developed an RC-model based drone with wings that change their actual shape in flight (as opposed to extending flaps, etc) from a F4U coarsair-like inverse gull to the opposite.

The intended usage is for highly maneuverable drones that can be operated even in a city.

An MPEG of the wing in action is available here.

It would take some work to scale this up to human-carrying aircraft. One of the reason plane wings are relatively stiff is that to build the wing strong enough to carry what we would call a decent load would make the wing unreasonably heavy if it had to have all the parts and supports required to make it bend like a bird’s wing. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how far this can be pushed, and more maneuverable, cheap drones are also a good thing, with any number of applications, many of them civilian.

Comparable Worth

If you have a bureaucracy that is responsible for determining who makes how much for what job, what happens when you need to create a job position that hasn’t existed before because you’ve created a new product, a new way to make things, or your business model requires your employees to combine aspects of existing jobs in new ways? I can imagine few better ways to stifle innovation and job creation than to make it nearly impossible to create new types of work.

More on Competition

While I was gone, it seems that Cringely has written an article echoing some of my earlier concerns here in response to a recent court decision. Again being discussed is competition in the ISP marketplace, how the court decisions affect it, and what has that meant for those of us stuck in out of the way places like Charleston (which incidentally, applies to both Cringely and I).

Took a Couple Days Off…

…(as if that affects my posting, or lack therof), and headed to the mountains in Tennessee. It was some well-needed downtime from all of the programming and other projects I had been working on.

Here’s some sample pics:


In the Greenbrier section of the park is an easy access road leading to a few apparently real good trails that we did not have the time to try. This road follows along the Little Pigeon River at first before splitting off. This island is in the middle of where two different streams feed together.


This photo was taken from the the observation tower atop of Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains National Park. At 6643 feet, it is the highest point in the Appalachian Trail, and affords you a view of Newfound Gap and many of the surrounding hills. On a clear day you can see for many more miles than we could in this photo. As it is, it’s odd to be inside the cloud raining on you.


On the NC side of the park on the way back down and home from Clingman’s dome, we took this photo, after the weather had already cleared up.

The entire park is incredibly lush. It may not be, technically, a “temperate rainforest” like the coastal areas of the Northwest US, but it is constantly humid and rains nearly daily.

A Tale of Technological Woe…

Every once in a while, even as a computer geek, the vagaries of the hardware world combine in such a way so that the varied, random, brownian motion takes a malevolent and perverse turn, leaving us mere mortals humbled.

Let me introduce the main player in this scenario: A P-III based Windows 98 machine that we call “Simone.” It was bought in Germany and has since had W98SE installed on it (english version) and a standard english keyboard attached. Not the fastest machine on the block, but more than fast enough for the kids to web-surf via the proxy server.

The goal was to get this machine back on the network. It had previously used a Linksys 802.11b wireless card, which could not be upgraded to use WPA encryption. I wasn’t willing to move my network back to WEP, an older encryption format, because of security concerns, as well as the fact that my wireless repeaters were much more stable using WPA (haven’t locked up yet) than using WEP (once a day).

Innocently, I walk into Staples, and pick up the available Linksys 802.11g card. The only version in stock. I get it home, install it, and look for the WPA setup features, puzzled by a strange inability to find them. Hey, it’s a brand new card, still in the plastic. WPA has been around a while, and has been a standard feature of Linksys wireless access points for something like a year now. No dice.

I cross-check the manual. No mention of WPA. No mention of it on the box either but it didn’t mention any specifics re: encryption on the box. I go online, and discover that not only is the card I bought, brand new, one version out of date, but that there is no driver upgrade to handle WPA. either.

So I take it back, and get a Netgear WG311t. This one does specifically state that it handles WPA. So I take it home, install the software, and then install the card. I fire the computer back up. I run the configuration utility. I specify the network name and the WPA-key. It starts to connect. It connects!

My eye wanders over the indications as it finishes pulling down an address from the network and I click on the Firefox icon. Just before the web browser takes over the screen I note with some unease that the “signal” level is actually displayed as the “singal” level. Sure enough, before you can say, “Not the best QA work on the drivers,” only half of the home web page loads, the rest of the images time out. The wireless icon is flashing a disconnected red.


Some research later I discover that the drivers for the card, and it’s controlling software, are considered at best utter dreck. Multitudes of people have had problems with the card, and the best workaround has been to use the built-in Windows XP wireless zeroconfig utility, the generic chipset drivers (software) for the radio circuitry built into the card, and bypass the Netgear software entirely.

Not having XP, that is obviously not going to be a solution. Back to the store I go.

One last PCI card presents itself, made by Belkin. They make pretty good adapters for serial ports and such, but don’t have quite so good a record with more complicated stuff like PCI cards, though I must say I have used their internal PCI firewire adapter cards on many occasions and found them to be reliable, stable, and easy to use and setup. I carefully check the box, yet again scrutinizing it for security protocols, and as always checking the minimum requirements, which turn out to be the “Windows 98 SE, 32-bit PCI slot” requirements that are standard for Wi-Fi cards. So I buy it and take it home.

Lather, rinse, repeat. This time (what, you thought it would work?) the computer cannot even see the card. Double check the specs. Yep, they’re correct, yep, my computer meets them. After some research I discover there is a known issue, though not listed on the manufacturer’s site, manual, or minimum requirements, that the card will simply not be recognized on older motherboards that are not at least up to version 2 of the PCI spec. This includes your typical Pentium-III mothrboards, like mine.

So back to the store I’ll be going…….