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Looking through old e-mails came across this, and decided to listen to it with my new hearing aids. Very different. More

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I just passed my Technician licensing exam today, and I was looking into purchasing gear. There are plenty of clubs in my area, I just want a starter radio. I’d like to pick up an handheld radio for VHF & UHF. There’s a well reviewed $60 tri-band radio on Amazon I am considering, but I […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. 62 Years Ago: Vanguard TV-3 Blows Up (Flopnik)

 

In 1955, there was a competition between the three armed services for the right to launch the first American satellite during the International Geophysical Year (actually 18 months 7/57-12/58). The Naval Research Lab won. As some of you know, my father co-wrote the proposal. He worked on the Minitrack system and designed the small test satellites.

On October 2, 1957, a memo went out that there would be no more paid overtime. Two days later, Sputnik 1 was launched and the memo was ignored. Sputnik’s signal was at 20 and 40 MHz whereas the IGY specified 108 MHz. That night, Dad called his assistant Marty Votaw and told him that the Soviets had launched a satellite. Marty responded, “Good, now we know it can be done.” Dad responded that they needed to track it. Marty asked if he could finish dinner first. Dad said yes, but come down immediately after that. They worked for three days without going home and modified Minitrack successfully to track Sputnik.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Boots, Hammers, and Classic Math

 
From the invaluable comic Flintlocke’s Guide to Azeroth

Being a man subject to his vices, I’ve started up again on World of Warcraft. Not the new stuff, the “Classic” servers. “Is that what’s taking up your time?” I hear you all saying, “I had wondered why it was slightly less nerdy and pedantic around here.” Well, worry no more! For the joy and edification of the Ricochet audience, here I reproduce the work I did with the damage formulas. Because a simple post about Warcraft wouldn’t be nearly nerdy enough.

It all stemmed from a simple question; which is better, strength or agility? Strength adds damage, but agility adds some damage as well, and some critical hit chance too. So how do you compare them? You can’t categorically say that one is always better than the other. Well, you can, and people often do. But you can’t and still be right. In a broader sense, how do you decide between two items? Here, let’s go shoe shopping. Which pair of boots do you think goes better with my yellow damage?

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The UNP has many space books for sale at 50% off through the end of November. I highly recommend the Outward Odyssey: A People’s History of Spaceflight series. The shipping cost of $6 is high but is less onerous if spread over multiple books. https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/fall-sale/ Here’s Jim Lovell holding my tome. More

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. What Does the IPCC Report Actually Say?

 

The science in the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) report is contained in the report published by Working Group 1 of the IPCC, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I suspect that few people have actually read this ~1500 page tome. Most people read the Summary for Policy Makers, which is written by bureaucrats and does not, in my opinion, faithfully reflect the contents of the actual report. There is too much emphasis on worst-case scenarios, which the report does not say are the most likely ones, in the Summary.

As best I can make out, what the report itself says is this: Global warming isn’t likely to be a big deal. It is unlikely to cause significant harm over the next 100 years or so. In a followup special IPCC report even in the worst-case scenario the prediction is a fall in economic productivity of 10% of what it would otherwise be by 2100. That’s not even noticeable considering the growth in the economy that will have occurred by then.

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It’s difficult to overstate the impact of smartphones on affluent societies. Barely more than twenty years ago, payphones were normal. If your car broke down or an emergency occurred outdoors, someone had to trek to the nearest landline. Sometimes I pity novelists and Hollywood scriptwriters who can no longer rely on the dilemma of being […]

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I couldn’t see the lesion but the name of the drug being prescribed for it rang a bell. I should’ve asked the dermatologist: “There’s a fungus back there?” But I do not challenge physicians since they know more (and see more) than I do. And now I know the answer: there’s a fungus all over. […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Made in the USA

 

More than a year ago, I was contacted by a film maker on the East Coast who wanted to interview me for a short documentary on Robert Noyce and the history of Silicon Valley. I agreed and he filmed me for several hours one autumn morning, in my house and atop my water tower (I have the oldest home in the Valley). Afterward, distracted working on two books, I promptly forgot all about it.

Tonight, I suddenly discovered the finished documentary on another website. I was astonished how well it was done, and how comprehensive in its history. It also, especially in the last few minutes, it captures some of my thinking in my upcoming book The Autonomous Revolution (co-authored with Bill Davidow). I hope you find it entertaining — and a little eye-opening.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Can You Live Without Your Smart Phone? Would You Want To?

 

This stems from a PIT thought. How much do you really need your smart phone? How much has it supplanted other devices, activities, or things in your life? Would you be willing to give it up, either mostly or entirely? Do you want to give it up? What is it that you use it for?

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October 4, the 62nd anniversary of the Sputnik satellite launch, is a good day for a review of Boris Chertok’s great memoir, Rockets and People. Chertok’s career in the Soviet aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high […]

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I will be taking over the @People_of_Space account tomorrow for a week. It switches each week and has almost 5,000 followers. People who are on twitter might want to follow it if you’re interested in space. I’ll be telling a lot of stories about the early space program, and a binder I found in a […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How to Build a Computer 37: CVD II, This Time It’s Personal

 

Last time, if you’ll recall, I discussed the basic idea of a chemical vapor deposition system, and described how you’d use it to deposit silicon onto your wafer. Today we’re following rather directly from that post, where we answer some important questions. Questions like “What if I don’t want to put down silicon? What other things can you offer me?” Well, for starters

SiCl4(g) + 2H2(g) + O2(g) —> SiO2(s) + 4HCl(g) ~900 C

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Two Degrees of Separation

 

There’s a theory that they’re only at most six degrees of separation between all people living today. But it’s interesting to consider how many degrees of separation there are between people today and famous people of the past. I’ve been considering for a while writing a biography of Capt. P.V.H. Weems. He was a major figure in developing aerial navigation in the 1920s-40s. He taught Lindbergh celestial navigation after he flew to Paris.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How to Build a Computer 36: Chemical Vapor Deposition

 

No matter how much fun you’re having etching silicon, applying and stripping photoresist, or implanting ions, sooner or later you’re going to have to actually put down some lines. Gotta build a circuit eventually. Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) is one of the main ways this gets done. Let’s have a look at what we’re doing, shall we?

If I had known I was going to use this picture at least three times I might have put a little more effort into the sketching.

What you’re looking at is a jump over a wire. You have two wires that need to cross but not touch each other, you gotta do something like this. Let’s go over the process to get there:

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Eating Cheetos with Chopsticks

 

Chopsticks are, in a general manner, inferior to the fork. Forks are more effective over a wider range of food, and they’re easier to master as well. Really in this day and age, the major reason to learn chopsticks is to look sophisticated. You don’t want to look like a dolt in front of your friends. So I’m using chopsticks to eat Cheetos.*

Cheetos are pretty much on the opposite end of the sophistication spectrum from sushi.** If you learn chopsticks to look suave in one of those swanky Japanese restaurants that’s one thing. You simply can’t look debonair eating bright orange cheese puffs. So why bother with the chopsticks? Aren’t they a finger food? They are if you don’t mind leaving blaze orange fingerprints everywhere.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Fun with Vectors and the Zombie Apocalypse

 

No, not vector in the epidemiological sense. The other, mathy kind of vector. Which, trust me, are fun. At least stick around for the zombies.

This dates back to my college days, when I took Differential Equations. Twice. I’ve always been good with math. Sure, I struggled with plenty of things along the way (percentages, trig identities, multivariable integration. Oooh, and concentrations in chemistry), but DiffEq is where I hit the wall like a coyote hits his own painted-on tunnel. Vector spaces were part of that; an abtruse concept used to justify an abstract concept used to solve some difficult equations that might, in turn, have something to do with the real world. But once I got my head wrapped around them, vector spaces turned out to be a fun and useful bit of math. Hey, it could happen.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Appearance on Cold War Conversations Podcast

 

My interview was posted today. I talked about the early space program and the origins of GPS. This podcast is great. I especially liked the episode where Hess’s interpreter talked about his conversations with the former Nazi #2. Here I am with my father in 1963.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How to Build a Computer 35: Anisotropic Etching

 

Last time we talked about how to make tiny little holes in silicon using harsh acids. Wet etching is fine and all, but sometimes you just can’t make a feature small enough. You’re limited by the aspect ratio. That is, how wide it is versus how tall it is. A post hole has a high aspect ratio because it’s much deeper than it is wide. A strip mine is a pretty low aspect ratio hole. The difficulty with making high aspect ratio holes in your silicon is that your etchant is going to etch down, yes, but it’s also going to etch towards the sides.

Before we get into dry etching there’s one more trick for making an anisotropic (uh, it etches downward quicker than it goes sideways. Literally the word means not-the-same-in-all-directions.) wet etch. What happens if you do your etching with a strong base instead of a strong acid? As it turns out, and for no reason, I’ve managed to determine, a strong base will etch one crystal face preferentially.

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