Low Corruption, High Income…

Corruption Perceptions Index, 2012:

How does your country rank in terms of public sector corruption? Find out in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index.

Income distribution looks the same (this is the World Bank’s map of Gross National Income (GNI) per Capita rated using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)):

GNI per capita, PPP (current international $), World Bank

GNI per capita, PPP (current international $), World Bank

Data from World Bank

Google Glass’ Retina Display? Almost…

Google Glass Explorer edition

Google Glass’ Explorer hardware

The Explorer version of Google Glass pairs a Himax HX7309 nHD LCOS microdisplay with optics to project a “display [that] is the equivalent of a 25 inch (63.5 cm) [diagonal], high definition screen [viewed] from eight feet away.” and the UI-guidelines say to “target a 640×360 resolution” using a default text size of 40 px.

When viewed through the Explorer’s optics,  display appears like a 25 inch, 16:9 screen.  is 20 inches (51 cm) wide and when viewed from 8 feet (244 cm) away, each pixel subtends just over 1 arcminute in your visual field (67 arcseconds = 3600*degrees(2*atan(20/640/2/(8*12)) ). Typical 20/20 vision has a resolution of about 1 arcminute (60 arcseconds) and so Glass pixels are very close to qualifying as a “retina” display. The whole screen, however, fills just 14 degrees of your visual field. For reference, an iPhone held screen 11 inches (28 cm) away fills 18 degrees (or 20.6 degrees for an iPhone 5).

By the way, the TSA is going to have a field day with sousveillance!

The Olson TZ (Time Zone) Database and Copyright…

They must have misread their stars! Astrolabe, Inc., who sells astrology software, acquired the copyright to “The American Atlas” by Thomas G. Shanks and then naively decided to sue the people who maintain the standard time zone database used in software worldwide. The Daily Parker promptly provided a great write-up in October, 2011 where David asked five questions:

  1. Is data about when time zone rules changed throughout history protected under copyright?
  2. If so, who owns it?
  3. If someone owns it, is the Olson database a derivative work under copyright law?
  4. If the Olson database does, in fact, derive from the work in question, is it a fair use?
  5. Just how stupid are these astrologists, anyway?

It’s useful to recall that government laws control time zone rules throughout the world. In the United States where the suit was filed, laws cannot be copyrighted nor can facts. That means the answer to question 1 is no, because it asks about facts (referred to as data). The actual text of the law(s) controlling time zone rules might have been copyrighted by the government that wrote them, but the facts themselves cannot be copyrighted. Since the answer to question 1 is no, the rest of the questions are rendered moot. Q.E.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D’s Helicarrier Could Lift-off Using Today’s Technology

S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier from The Avengers movie

Immediately after watching The Avengers movie (on opening day; and yes, it’s been quite a while), I set off, tongue firmly in cheek, to reality-check S.H.I.E.L.D’s Helicarrier. Professor Allain’s Wired blog “Could the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier Fly?” arrives at a different conclusion than I did, so I thought it’s finally time to write up my alternate assessment.

Like the professor, I began by looking into Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Built using HSLA-100 steel, those 333 meter long carriers displace about 100,000 long tons. S.H.I.E.L.D, with flight as a design goal, would clearly upgrade to titanium, employ aircraft construction techniques, and use other advanced methods to lighten their 450 m Helicarrier by about half to 55,000 metric tons (t).

Next, could real fans fit in the space allocated and still generate enough thrust to lift 55 kt? Using the Harriers Alpha Jets on deck as measuring sticks shows that each of the four fans is 51 m in diameter giving a total rotor area of 8,200 m². The Helicarrier name invites comparison with helicopters, so I initially checked its fans against the remarkable Russian Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter. The Mi-26′ has a maximum takeoff weight of 56 t using a rotor 32 m across to provide a lift/area ratio of 0.07 t/m². That herculean helicopter’s lift/area ratio provides only 1% of what S.H.I.E.L.D needs to fly. Helicopter rotors are out.

Fortunately, engineers have already done better, much better; the Rolls-Royce LiftSystem in the F-35B produces far higher lift/area ratios. For instance, the front LiftFan generates 20,000 lb of lift from a 127 cm (50 in.) fan and the whole system generates 19 t (41,900 lb) of lift from 2.51 m² of duct area (LiftFan, jet exhaust, and roll-posts). Its 7.56 t/m² ratio leaps two orders of magnitude past the Mi-26 and provides plenty of lift-off thrust for S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters. To sustain a single rotor failure, the Helicarrier engineers must have improved on Rolls-Royce by at least 14% to 8.61 t/m² or more. Nonetheless, the Helicarrier appears to fly within the laws of physics here.

Spinning those fans requires an enormous amount of power and generating it presents an even bigger engineering problem, but it hovers (barely) within the realm of possibility. The F35-B’s thrust ratio (55,000 shp delivering 41,900 lb thrust) implies the Helicarrier carries engine(s) capable of 157 million horsepower (shp) or ~117 gigawatts output (that’s more power than all of the nuclear power plants in the USA combined). Any power source would need to be scaled up, but allocating 20% of the carrier’s gross tonnage to the power plant sets the minimum power density at 10.8 kW/kg; for comparison, here’s a quick rundown of some real-world power densities:

  • A Pratt & Whitney F135 jet turbine in the F35B produces 38 kW/kg
  • The RS-25D Space Shuttle Main Engine delivers the highest power to weight ratio available today at 1445 kW/kg
  • For something closer to home, the LS9 supercharged V8 in a Corvette C6 ZR1 produces 638 HP and weighs 530 lb (dry) for a power to weight ratio of 0.9 kW/kg
  • The Indy Car Series 2012- engine weighs just 112.5 kg (248 lb) and puts out 522 kW (700 HP) 4.46 kW/kg or 5× the specific power of a Corvette but just half of what’s needed
  • A Nimitz A4W nuclear reactor weighs a lot more but at least it contains enough fuel for two decades; it generates 0.05 kW/kg with older, 18% efficienct steam turbines
  • The Los Alamos Heat Pipe reactor (alpha of 0.43) combined with 40%+ efficiency turbines raises its specific power to 0.8 kW/kg

Unlike the Nimitz aircraft carrier, nuclear reactors, even lightweight research reactors, won’t work. S.H.I.E.L.D would need around 530 A4W reactors to generate 117 GW and those would weigh over 2 million metric tons; that wouldn’t just ground the Helicarrier, it would sink it!

Shuttle main engines would weigh 81 t or 0.15% of the total. Using the rest of the weight allocation for cryogenic fuel provides 2 hours of flight time in a tank 111 m long and 11 m in diameter.

Turbines have high enough specific power but need to be scaled up a lot; just ganging together 3,000 P&W F135 turbines would be an engineering and maintenance nightmare! Real-world engines have high enough specific power for the Helicarrier, but scaling them up would be incredibly difficult.

For in-world consistency, I also had to consider Tony Stark’s imaginary arc reactors. His Mark III could generate 3 gigawatts (3×109 watts) and the Mark IV upgrade quadrupled that to 12 gigawatts (12×109 watts). Stark could easily pickup either version by hand and so I’ll assume a maximum weight of 50 kg. That’s 240,000 kW/kg! and a specific power 1,600 times greater than the Shuttle turbopump! Using an exotic power source like that obviates the need for anything fancy; just scale up a standard AC induction motor and watch it fly!

Genetically Engineered Crops and the Farmers Who Don’t Want Them

Q: What’s the difference between patented plants and other patented things?
A: The plants can make copies of the “patented” invention on their own without help from anyone.
This is a fundamental distinction that the courts have apparently overlooked.  The crucial difference between plants and other inventions is the fact that it doesn’t require any human action to replicate the patented invention. The plant, on its own,  will copy the covered invention as it goes about its natural life. If Monsanto wants to sue someone, sue the plant; after all, it was the life-form that exercised Monsanto’s patent.

The courts should recognize that when a farmer takes no action (the copy of the patented item was made by a plant),  then the farmer is in no way at fault for winding up with a patented item on their land.  Like I said, Monsanto should sue the plant.

Plants propagate; it’s a fundamental requirement for life, and if a plant with patented genes propagates on its own, then there cannot be a finding of patent infringement.  If there is, then the lawyers and judges have lost touch with reality;  go out and garden, then come back and judge again.

If a plant “inventor” really wanted to prevent Mother Nature from going about her business and making copies, then the inventor can engineer sterility into their plants along with whatever other traits they’re trying to enhance.  Otherwise, the plants themselves, without any help from us, will go about their business and replicate across the landscape.

Election 2012 Results for Utah Congressional District 4, Jim Matheson (D) wins by 768 votes over Mia Love (R)

Summary of Official Election Results for Utah Congressional District 4 Election, Jim Matheson (D) v. Mia Love (R)

Jim Matheson (D) remains part of Utah’s congressional delegation after winning by the slimmest of margins in Utah’s new District 4 against Mia Love (R).  Only 768 votes, or 0.31% separated him from Ms. Love.

FiveThirtyEight Blog Correctly Predicts 32 of 33 Senate Races

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential election in all 50 states and correctly called 32 of 33 senate races.  The one missed call in Montana was probably due the changing demographics that Micah Cohen wrote about earlier.