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“If at first you don't succeed, bomb defusing is not for you.”

Armadillo Aerospace reaches beta (with a large bonus)

Filed under: Uncategorized — mgrusin at 9:35 am on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CRW_7604Another X-Prize won!  Armadillo Aerospace is the first team to win the Lunar Lander Challenge (but the demonstration window is still open, and other teams could still share the prize money).

One thing I really like about Armadillo is that from the beginning they’ve done their engineering in small increments, fixing what doesn’t work as they go along.  They’ve been at this a long time and their logs are fascinating to read; full of endless problems with metallurgy, thermodynamics, supersonic flow, control… all encountered through thousands of tests, and all eventually solved.  Founder John Carmack, who made his fortune from DOOM and other video games puts it best:

When asked what lessons the traditional aerospace community should learn from their success, Carmack answered, “You learn so much more by getting out there and doing things than you do sitting at a desk running a CAD program. You can’t even imagine some of the things that wind up going wrong. It’s the unknown unknowns that get you. You wind up getting things done by going out there and trying it, accepting levels of failure and you beat the problem into submission by working on it over and over and over again. And when you can build your operations tempo up to doing things every day, that’s what we want to see in the aerospace world.”

Exactly.  They’ve definitely earned this one, and the million dollar prize ain’t bad either.

via OnOrbit

Haiku (finally) reaches alpha

Filed under: Uncategorized — mgrusin at 5:20 pm on Monday, September 14, 2009

haikuIt’s taken a while, but Haiku, an open-source project to replace an orphaned operating system called BeOS, has finally reached alpha stage.  To understand why this is exciting, you need to know a little history:

BeOS was an extraordinary operating system available in the mid-90s.  Lean, modern, media-savvy, and blazingly fast, it was a joy to use.  BeOS went through a number of evolutionary stages, running on proprietary, then Apple, then PC hardware; but each effort ran into brutal anticompetition tactics from both Apple and Microsoft.  (And to be fair, BeOS suffered from poor marketing of an admittedly difficult-to-market product.  Why should you buy something that comes “free” with your computer, even if it is mediocre, if it means giving up the benefits of ubiquity?)  In desperation, the company (Be) changed their focus to “internet appliances” instead of general-purpose desktop software, but this failed when the dot-com bubble burst.  Despite heroic efforts within and outside the company, Be went bankrupt and was sold to Palm (which did very little with the BeOS technology), and a small handful of BeOS revival efforts eventually faded away.

Except for one, the Haiku project.  Unlike some revival efforts, which used illegally stolen code, or proposed creating Linux windowing systems that just looked like BeOS, the Haiku project rewrote BeOS from the ground up.  Because they didn’t have access to all the minute details of the real BeOS internals, Haiku is not binary-compatible with BeOS.  But it IS source-compatible (existing code can be recompiled to run on Haiku), and has the same great look and feel that made BeOS such a pleasure to use.

It’s a valid question as to whether it’s worthwhile to try to revive orphaned operating systems, especially for desktop use.  There’s definitely a critical mass where the number of users vs. the amount of development feed each other; below that limit an OS is not likely to survive.  But there’s something to be said for a healthy ecosystem requiring diversity, in both the natural and computer worlds.  Without competition, the few remaining choices become stagnant and bloated.  Sometimes something revolutionary is needed to keep everyone on their toes.

Via OSNews.com

Boulder, Colorado

Filed under: Ephemera — mgrusin at 1:23 am on Thursday, September 10, 2009

Things I will miss when I move away from Boulder Colorado:

  • Driving on Cherryvale road, past the old house with the man on the porch who waves back at you, Peter’s Pumpkin Patch, and fields with the Flatirons in the background and deer and hawks and late summer wildflowers.
  • Being lucky enough to live in a light, airy treehouse on a creek and a bike path.
  • Being able to ride your bike most places in town without entering traffic.  And at certain times of the day, being able to get across town faster on a bike than in a car.
  • The pair of juvenile owls who learned to fly and hoot in the big cottonwoods just off our porch.
  • The Parkway Cafe, with the aquariums and great waitresses and the best Eggs Benedict in town.
  • My mom.
  • Birthday dinners at my aunt’s house.  My uncle’s perfectly-grilled steaks.  My cousin’s X-box.
  • Dropping by the Tropical Bird Farm and handing out nuts to everyone.
  • The human-scale housing developments (I can’t afford to live in them, but it’s encouraging to see them).
  • Skiing in whiteout powder that has blocked the arriving crowds and makes you laugh out loud.
  • J.B. Saunders, the best electronic parts store in the state within walking distance of my home.
  • Camping.
  • The International Scout.
  • The Boulder Outdoor Cinema.
  • All the science going on in the area, and the people who understand it.
  • People who see something they can do to make things better, then actually do it. (Community Cycles!)
  • People who think up completely oddball ways to have fun, then actually do it. (Ignite! Thursday night cruisers! Nerf wars!)
  • Having the resources of a major university just down the street.
  • Colorado Space Grant, birthplace of the next generation of explorers.
  • Growth limits, which have made this city beautiful (but expensive).
  • Summers when the bulk of the students are gone.

Things I won’t miss when I move away from Boulder Colorado:

  • The weekend the students return.
  • Growth limits, which have made this city expensive (but beautiful).
  • The abject wealth.  Friends saying “we’re selling our house, you should buy it!” when it’s listed at 1.2 million.
  • 28th street turning into Anymall America.
  • Pearl street turning into Upscale Anymall America.
  • RIP the beloved local places that have come and gone: Tom’s Tavern, The Last American Diner, The Hoffbrau, Daylight Donuts, Double Nickel, Philly Junction, Aria, etc.  (Most forced out by outrageous rent inflation and replaced by national chains that can operate at a loss.)
  • The completely insane building department, which lets everyone get away with murder except you.
  • Whole Foods, where people’s brains shut off as they enter the building.
  • RIP Annual Trash Day, where people used to put anything and everything out by the curb for city pickup and great scrounging.  (Permanently canceled due to liability and funding.)
  • RIP the old recycling center, which had better parking, tolerated scrounging, and had a more community feel. (Replaced by a “modern” recycling center which is poorly designed and doesn’t allow scrounging).
  • Complete respect for your constitutional rights, as long as you agree with us.
  • The moral high ground.  We’re all sinners.