2008 01 26
System compatibility, writ large

The NYT had a little blip today about the new freight train service between China and Germany. It’s interesting in itself, and especially so because apparently Russia and Mongolia’s national railroads use a different gauge than the national railroads of China, Germany, Poland and whatever other country the route passes through. So a single train can’t make the journey. They have to unload the freight and re-load it, to transfer between trains that run on the relevant gauges. I love this for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating fully. Giant systems, huge investments of resources and labor and time for their respective countries, where the decisions about the basic specs have huge ramifications, and it would be just a nightmare to fix.

But here’s where the NYT story surpasses itself into infrastructure geek sublimity. Because a similar problem of incompatible gauges has cropped up at other times in history, and the article links to the amazing example of the US southern railroads, which in 1886 converted almost 12,000 miles of track (and all their working trains too) to a different gauge in two days.

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2006 06 30
Public Service Announcement: Netgear USB Adapter and ZoneAlarm

Posted by in: Software, Technology

This is for people googling for help with their netgear wireless USB Adapter (WG111v2). I googled in vain for help; this post is written so that you will not have googled in vain.
Continue Reading »

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2005 04 24
Current action prohibited by disk

Posted by in: Gadgets, Technology

Or something like that. That’s what our DVD player says when we try to fast-forward through the previews or introductory material on a DVD. This never fails to annoy me. I’ll bet it’s not technologically impossible for the machine to ignore the disk instructions and fast-forward anyway. For the publishers of the DVD to try to force me to watch an ad is merely outrageous – merely because my expectations about this sort of thing are so low now that I’m able to keep my revenge fantasies under control. The serious scandal here is that the DVD machine – our DVD machine – is conspiring with these bastards. It’s our damn DVD player. Whose side is it supposed to be on?

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2004 12 09
Department of useless research

Congratulations are due to the bright lights who have discovered the dangers that laptops pose to our fragile sperm:

Men who use laptop computers could be unwittingly damaging their fertility, experts believe.

Balancing it on the lap increases the temperature of the scrotum which is known to have a negative effect on sperm production, researchers found.

It’s not as though they’ve discovered that laptops emit some special type of ray that causes infertility. It’s just that laptops get hot, and a lot of heat around a man’s crotch lowers his fertility. You know, like tight jeans. But never let the obvious get in the way of a grant proposal:

Coupled with the rising popularity of these computers – about 150m people use them worldwide – much more research is needed say the US authors.

I’ll bet it is.

I also hear that repeatedly smashing a hammer against your weenie lowers your reproductive fitness. Wonder if anyone will pay me to research that (on someone else, of course).

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2004 04 22
Drinking the Water in Gaza

You know, if I could invent one thing, it would be an extremely cheap and environmentally friendly desalination process. As it is, we can still make do with the current (more expensive, and, I think, less environmentally friendly) desalination techniques. The Head Heeb has a nice piece on the potential benefits of bringing water to Gaza.

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