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Industrial Equipment Noise

Tech Wake-Up: All-Over-the-Place Edition

By Mark Devlin

April 2, 2012

The Reality of Online User Reviews

Web-based product reviews can be wonderful sources of information: if they’re legitimate. Often, they’re not. Here’s a USA Today article about fake online reviews, and one from The Atlantic on how to spot the fakes. Here’s yet another, from the New York Times, on how companies pay for top-notch reviews.

Here, from xkcd, ‘a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language’ (via Gizmodo) is a real-world view of how product reviews work…


Oh. Remember what I said in the past about QR codes? (See the parenthetical comments under NFC in this article, for instance.) Be careful with those, too, as Consumer Reports found that scammers cover legitimate QR codes on in-store displays with evil, QR-coded stickers that can lead to malware sites. (Source: PC News Digest)

The QR codes in IEN are fine and legit, however.

Every time things get better and simpler, some bottom-feeding dirtbag finds a way to ruin our fun.

Don’t We Have Data for This?

That’s what I kept asking myself—and screaming at the TV—when the economy was melting down in ’08. “C’mon,” I thought. “We have brilliant people with a hundred years of experience—and troves of data that should’ve prevented this from ever happening.”

Apparently, we have the troves of data, but absolutely no clue what it all means.

The new Big Data initiative by the Obama administration may help change that.

Okay, $200 million sounds like a lot of money and many people will be both shocked and up in arms over it—but, spending that much ‘to extract knowledge and insights’ from large data sets seems a rather small amount, actually. (That same amount is what was or wasn’t spent a day for Obama’s 2010 trip to India.)

The objective is to improve the ‘tools and techniques used to analyze large volumes of data,’ such as in defense, health, energy, and science.

That’s according to this brief at Electronista.

There’s no mention of analyzing and accurately interpreting large amounts of financial and economic data to prevent, oh, I dunno—the economy from exploding again?

To badly paraphrase Edwin Starr: ‘Data. Hoo. Good gawd, ya’ll. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’—unless it can be interpreted with reasonable accuracy.

Blowing S**t Up—By the Numbers

MythBusters is a great show, especially for any technologist (at least in relative terms of what’s on TV in general).

Even if you’re not a MythBusters fan, you might get a kick out of these stats from Discovery

Years of filming: 9
Total number of episodes: 187
Total hours of programming: 218 (including specials)
Total number of myths: 833 myths
Myth breakdown: 461 busted, 194 confirmed, 178 plausible
Total number of experiments: Approx. 2,510
Total number of explosions: Approx. 792
Total amount of duct tape used: 33,500 yards
Total number of hours filmed: Approx. 6,800
Number of vehicles destroyed: 146
Poundage of explosives: 13.5 tons

Keep on ‘busting, guys. You’re one of mankind’s few, remaining ways to separate fact from fiction. (You also do way more than your part to keep duct tape manufacturing lines busy.)

Insane Story with a Happy Ending

In a strange, strange land in which the entirety of Wall Street walks free with bonuses despite nearly causing global economic collapse, it gets even stranger when a South Carolina school teacher is suspended for reading Ender’s Game to his middle school students.

Yes, you read that right. Ender’s Game, that brilliant piece of sci-fi/technology fantasy by Orson Scott Card—and one of my favorite books of All Time.

Why and/or how in the galaxy could any teacher be suspended for reading Ender’s Game? A parent reported the teacher to the school district, saying the book is pornographic.

That’s according to this Forbes article.

Author Orson Scott Card commented in this snippet…

The teacher was reading Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” which the parent said, was pornographic. But Card told the Doug Wright Show, the way he understands it, the teacher had also been reading inappropriate material off the Internet to the class. Card believes the parent must have looked at the reading list, saw “Ender’s Game,” and got upset.

”‘Ender’s Game’ has been on an evangelical hit list for a long time, for no other reason, but that I’m Mormon,” Card said.

There’s also a question of profanity being lumped in with pornography…

“There’s nothing in ‘Ender’s Game’ that they are not completely familiar with,” Card said. “These kids are 14 year olds in South Carolina. I know for a fact it is impossible that they aren’t hearing those words at least once a week, if not every day.”

In a Forbes update here, it’s said that ‘Public Safety officials have now stated that the teacher committed no crime and will not be charged, adding that the police investigation is closed.’

As a technologist, geek, sci-fi fan, and (I think) reasonable human being, I have only one more thing to say about this:

Attention students everywhere: please read the wonderfully written Ender’s Game before the movie comes out next year. As science fiction techno fantasy, it’s worth every moment of your time.

How an Inflatable Plug Could Save a City

Okay, maybe not a whole city, but close. What happens if/when a transit tunnel floods? It’s not pretty, at least if we go by Hollywood’s (bad) depiction of such a disaster in Stallone’s Daylight. I commuted to Manhattan for a decade, travelling by trains going through ‘tubes’ at the bottom of the Hudson River. It’s really not comfortable knowing that there’s a river on your head. (Though, strangely, I have no problem scooting through the tunnels of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Maybe I’m thinking, “Hey…if I see water, I’m standing on the throttle,” instead of being at the mercy of a locomotive with someone else driving.)

It actually happened in Chicago. A small tunnel leak expanded, eventually flooding the entire tunnel system, according to this article at PhysOrg.

Number of people evacuated: 250,000
Damages: $2 billion
Time to pump the tunnels dry: 6 weeks

That was twenty years ago.

The DHS Science and Technology Directorate, in a unique and rare safety effort not involving the removal and subsequent X-raying of shoes, has…

…successfully tested an unprecedented technology for containing flooding or dangerous gases in mass transit tunnels: a giant plug.

S&T's Resilient Tunnel Project (RTP) has developed an enormous inflatable cylinder, tunnel-shaped with rounded capsule-like ends, that can be filled with water or air in minutes to seal off a section of tunnel before flooding gets out of control.


Co-developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, West Virginia University, and ILC Dover, the plug inflates with water or air to about 32 ft-long and 16 ft-wide. Such a tunnel presents countless obstacles (such as pipes, vents, lighting, and railroad tracks) but the plug successfully sealed even against those elements.

Material and construction? Here you go…

…thick webbing made of Vectran, a liquid-crystal polymer fiber, calls to mind a thickly woven cargo net more than a balloon but provides strength and shape to the plug. Two additional layers, one of non-webbed Vectran and one of polyurethane, seal the air or water used as the inflation medium inside.

Sometimes, the best solution is seemingly the simplest. Thank you, DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

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