Sorry For Light Posting

I didn’t get anything prepared last night for today, and we’re doing daylight savings patches today at work on everyone’s workstations.  It’s the Y2K thing all over again, courtesy of our friends in Congress who probably thought they were actually accomplishing something, and didn’t think about the technological terror they were constructing with this asinine change.

Microsoft wants $4000 bucks for the daylight savings time patch for Windows 2000.  Now, it’s one thing to say something is off support, and they won’t be patching anymore.  But they are still providing security updates and such for Windows 2000 for free.  You have the patch, it’s critical for your customers, you provide that as a courtesy.  This is a way for Microsoft to subtly encourage users to upgrade, if by subtly it’s meant that they are hitting you over the head with a 2×4 and shouting “Upgrade, bitch!” at you.

I’d love to switch to something else, but Microsoft has a good little monopoly going, and there’s not much we can do about it.  I use Linux and MacOS personally, and at work, so I have no use for Windows.  But try convincing people to go without Visio, and things like that.  You won’t have much luck.   OpenOffice is a good substitute for Microsoft Office,  but it’s almost formats things properly when converting back and fourth to word format.  I deviate from my libertarian instincts when it comes to Microsoft, or monopolies in general.

I Do Believe Bloglines Is Working Again

It’s hard to tell if it’s because the 20th has come and gone (confirming my theory that it was my accidentally post-dated posts and comment that scrozzled the Bloglines), or if Bloglines did something.  If bloglines did something, thanks.  But I’m thinking it was probably the post dating and subsequent corrections that confused Bloglines into not updating its feed for my blog.

In other news, I’m liking my MacBook Pro enough that I’m considering getting myself a desktop Mac Pro and running the blog off that, and decommissioning the old Linux server.  It’s not that I don’t like Linux anymore, it’s just the differences between MacOS and Linux are pronounced enough that it makes going back and forth painful.

They are both Unix underneath anyway, though it’s taking some getting used to going back to the BSD universe, where I have to do ps -aux instead of ps -ef to get a process list, and no longer have things like /proc.  Plus, true to its NeXTStep roots, I see MacOS still retains NetInfo, which always seemed to me to be NIS written by aliens.

MacOS X is pretty cool, but it’s basically NeXTStep running on top of BSD with a nicer user interface on top of it :)

Rail Gun Porn

While we’re talking about futuristic weapons, how about some rail gun porn? Hat tip to

This is a 15 Kilojoule shot at target. You can see the plasma arc coming out of the gun. On their site, they say a lot of the energy got wasted because of the metal vaporization. Sad.[youtube][/youtube]
8.3KJ shot with aluminium/teflon projectile. Apparently sending the projectile supersonic.
Take a trip over to powerlabs to get the details. You could build one of these yourself if you wanted to.

Laser Control & Futuristic Weapons

Without a doubt, eventually, someday, we’ll figure out a way to pack enough energy into a small enough space to basically render ordinary firearms obsolete. Indeed, materials technology is nearing the point, probably by the middle of this century, where body armor will be effective enough that standard small arms will not penetrate it, and light enough to be worn without too much burden.

But which technology would supplant the firearm? Well, lasers are one possibility. For various reasons, I think the least likely, but it’s interesting to take a look at the current legal regulations concerning lasers. From Sam’s Laser FAQ, we have:

Please don’t give the legislators ideas. Sales of lasers are unregulated except for medical and laser show systems, and a few systems under export controls. For all other systems, you just have to register as a manufacturer if you’re making them for public sales and submit your product for compliance, and maintain records of who it was initially sold to in case there is a need for a recall.

Of course, this is just the federal level. Apparently a few states regulate lasers.

NOW, where the crap hits the fan is at the state level. New York records the serial number of all lasers and requires licensed operators, transferring a laser in NY above class II to another citizen of NY without reregistering the unit is an offense. Transporting a laser through NY or selling it out of state from NY is not however a offense. Texas and Arizona have user fees to pay for their states radiologic safety programs, etc. I’m told by a friend that AZs fees are quite steep, on the order of $1,500 a year for large industrial lasers and that AZ inspects laser shows rather thoroughly. Other states may vary, but generally unless they have made misuse of pointers a issue, there are no worries except in NY and AZ. Possession is not illegal and they don’t deny permits to register in those states. However, they may disqualify a person who fails to pass the test.

Arizona is surprising. New York not so much, because New York likes to regulate everything. I don’t think you can take a dump in New York without a permit.

As I said, I think lasers are not likely to supplant firearms, because they take a lot of energy to be powerful enough to damage someone or something. Burning a hole through someone, other than through a vital organ, isn’t really all that serious, plus you could armor something just by putting a mirror on it.

What I think will likely supplant firearms are electromagnetic weapons. These are more commonly known as rail guns or gauss guns. While I don’t think these will supplant small arms for quite some time, they will probably start to appear on ships and heavy artillery platforms by the middle of the century. But if we ever figured out how to pack a lot of energy into a small space, in theory you could make a man portable electromagnetic weapon that could punch through tank armor. The ironic thing is, if you did this today, your device, as best I can tell, would be completely unregulated in most states (New Jersey, you’d still need an FID, sorry). But imagine an arm you could adjust a power setting on: low for taking out soft targets, and high for busting through hardned targets.

But I’m sure if you had one of those, it wouldn’t be long before the VPC and Brady’s would start preaching the evils of electromagnetism, and the need to ban assault magnets. It’ll come someday. You heard it here first.  Ooops, maybe you didn’t hear it here first.

Laser Restoration

Aside from interest in things that go boom, I also have a bit of fascination with lasers. Not the common semi-conductor variety that you see in laser pointers and DVD players, but noble gas lasers. Last night I picked up an old Spectra-Physics helium-neon laser from a friend of mine. It’s nothing really powerful. A bit more powerful than your standard laser pointer, but it’s not a Class IV laser that can punch holes throughi solid steel.

Unfortunately, the thing didn’t work, probably because the gas inside has become too impure. The composition of a laser tube isn’t all that different from a neon sign. You have a cathode and anode, and a high voltage power source pumping the electrons of the He and Ne atoms into an excited state. But it takes more than this to get the gas medium to lase.

To accomplish that, you have to pump a large number of atoms into an excited state, and establsih population inversion. When these exited atoms’ electrons return from their excited state to the ground state, they emit a photon. In a laser configuration, you have two reflective mirrors on either side of the tube. One mirror will be highly reflective, and the other semi-reflective. This forms an optical catvity, or resonator along the axis of discharge. What’ll end up happening is you’ll have photons moving back and forth in the cavity hundreds of times, where they’ll interact with other excited atoms, casuing them to emit photons themselves. This process is called “stimulated smission”. Every photon produced through stimulated emissions will be of the same wavelength and move in the same direction as the stimulating photon. Once you build up enough light radiation within the reasonator cavity, some photons will begin to escape from the slightly less reflective mirror, producing a coherent beam of light that most people are familiar with. Helium neon lasers produce a nice, bright pink/reddish light. You can get other colors using other gases as your lasing medium. Laser pointers use a solid state laser, which operates a bit differently than this, but the principle is basically the same.

But the laser I got didn’t work. Just like a neon sign, after a while you start introducing impurities into the tube, both from the glass, the sealants on the tube, and from the operation of the cathode and anode. Most gas lasers have something in them called a “getter”, which is a device, usually heat activated at the time of manufacture, which sucks impurities out of the tube. There are different ways to heat up the getter to reactivate it, in an attempt to restore the laser function, but the easiest way is just to remove the tube from its power source and microwave the thing for a few seconds until you notice the tube start to come back to life. The microwaves induce a current in the metal part, heating it enough to activate. Sadly, this didn’t work for me. The light show inside the tube was impressive, but still no lasing when I reconnected the tube to the high voltage power supply. Sad.

You can actually build your own Class IV lasers, which can actually cut and burn things. There are kits and plans out there if you look. Generally, it’s CO2 lasers that make the best implements of destruction. The cool thing is, unlike guns, lasers are pretty much unregulated. I will post about that a little later in the day.