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How safe can a gun be?

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The old argument from those who insist on, for example, the US citizens’ right to carry a gun for the defence of themselves or others in need sounds something like this:
“It’s not the gun that kills people – it’s the one pulling the trigger.”

smart gun
Of course, to a large extent this is true, but (as I have written before) it would be better to have no guns in the first place. Long ago, for example, the UK drastically reduced rights to own a gun. Admittedly, the UK was never like Texas and the vast majority of gun owners had their weapons only for hunting, sport shooting or pest control – not for self defence. Gun deaths in the UK are some of the lowest in the world. In contrast, Finland hosts an amazing 1.9 million privately-held weapons, and has a population of only five million people, but they are not for self-defence either – they are for hunting and sport shooting. But, gun deaths are uncomfortably high, suicide being the major problem, followed by homicide. Guns can be misuse, and they are much easier to kill someone with than a knife or a hammer – you don’t have to get so close.

My point here is that even the most responsible gun owner just might lose control if faced with, for example, depression or marital infidelity. After a few drinks, the gun in the cupboard just might seem like a simple solution to the problem of the moment. Or, of course, a neighbour or family member just might know where the gun is kept and (as most Finnish men have been in the military) just how to use it. The gun in the picture above is a ‘smart gun’, and can only be fired if the registered owner is holding it. It remembers their palm print. This is a great step forward, and might be improved further if it knew that the person wielding it was drunk!

What was the first computer you used?

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BBC Micro - front view

BBC Micro – front view

The first computer I used was at a college back in the early 80s. It was a BBC Micro computer with no internal memory, just RAM. The operating system was BBC Basic, similar to Microsoft Basic, but more user friendly. The work was saved on an external audio cassette drive, and loaded from the same – at normal cassette speed. The screen showed just white text on black, but colour graphics could be created. “In line with its ethos of expandability Acorn produced its own range of peripherals for the BBC Micro, including: joysticks, tape recorder, floppy drive interface upgrade, floppy drives (single and double), Econet networking upgrade, Econet Bridge, Winchester disk system, 6502 Second Processor, Z80 Second processor (with CP/M and business software suite), 32016 Second processor, ARM Evaluation System, Teletext adapter, Prestel adapter, Speech synthesiser, Music 500 synthesiser, BBC Turtle, BBC Buggy and IEEE 488 Interface“. (Wikipedia links)

BBC Micro - rear view

BBC Micro – rear view

“After the Literacy Project’s call for bids for a computer to accompany the TV programmes and literature, Acorn won the contract with the Proton, which was renamed the BBC Micro and was adopted by most schools in the United Kingdom, changing Acorn’s fortunes. It was also moderately successful as a home computer in the UK despite its high cost.” (Wikipedia)

Below is a screenshot of an an Elite game from Acornsoft (1984). The full description and technical specifications are available on Wikipedia – just click HERE.

BBC Micro screenshot of an Elite game

BBC Micro screenshot of an Elite game

 

 

Disc or disk?

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Here’s one that makes me think, “Which is it?”

English: Compact Disc Nederlands: Compact Disc

English: Compact Disc Nederlands: Compact Disc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, it’s an easy one. Before the age of computers there were only discs, and a disc could be any flat circular thing, a vinyl record or pretty much anything which had roughly the same shape. There are disc galaxies in space and disc brakes on cars. Getting more modern, we have CDs (Compact Discs), DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs), both of which are pressed, optically-read discs.

A hard-disk, and any other kind of disk you can put in your computer to store or ‘burn’ your own stuff on, is different and stores data on a magnetic layer. This means that many of them can be used more than once, as the magnetic ‘memory’ can be erased to make room for new stuff. These disks should also be stored more carefully. For example, they should not be kept next to magnets, and as every speaker has a magnet inside it’s not smart to use your woofers and tweeters as ‘bookends’ for your storage disk collection.’

Talking about wind power

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Panoramic view of the Whitelee wind farm with Lochgoin Reservoir in the foreground. Date:24 October 2010 Source: Wikipedia Author: Bjmullan

Panoramic view of the Whitelee wind farm with Lochgoin Reservoir in the foreground.
Date: 24 October 2010 – Source: Wikipedia – Author: Bjmullan

NOTE: This is a language guide, not a thesis on wind turbines. My hope is that it will help those of you whose first language is not English to be able to discuss, or write about, wind power.
You can’t have failed to notice strange new trees growing up in windy places. They are usually white and only have three branches, and their trunks are straight and clean. They go by several names, but windmills and wind turbines are two of the most common. Wind power has been utilised for varous purposes, like pumping, irrigation and milling, for over two thousand years, but the first electricity-generating wind turbine was a battery charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland (Wikipedia). There have been many designs of electricity generating windmills, but I shall concentrate on the horizontal axis, three-bladed type, pictured above, which have become the most common.

So, everyone knows what they do – they make electricity from the wind,  but exactly how do they do it? First of all, let’s take a look at the component parts of a typical turbine.

Schematic diagram of a modern horizontal-axis, three-bladed wind turbine Date30 November 2006 Author: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy - public domain Permission

Schematic diagram of a modern horizontal-axis, three-bladed wind turbine
Date: 30 November 2006 – courtesy of Wikipedia
Author: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – public domain

So, whatever the size of our horizontal-axis wind turbine, it must face into the wind in order for it to work. Very small turbines achieve this by having a big wind vane at the back, just like the one on the anemometer (wind-speed meter) in the drawing above, only much bigger. However, on larger models this is impractical as the vane would have to be absurdly large. However, whatever the design of any major wind turbine, the list of components remains pretty much the same, although their positions may differ. Here follows a description of the main parts and how they work …READ MORE

Words of the Day – Effective and Efficient

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Putting the dog in the dishwasher may be an effective cleaning solution, but hardly efficient (as the dog would probably die).

Putting the dog in the dishwasher may be an effective cleaning solution, but hardly efficient (as the dog would probably die). Photo copyright Malcolm Pemberton 2012.

Here are two more words that are often used wrongly.

To be efficient is to make good use of your time and available resources, so that the job gets done well with the minimum of waste. Being efficient usually involves looking at the bigger picture too. Efficient is often used with other words to create compound adjectives like fuel-efficient and energy-efficient.
An efficient car carries its occupants in appropriate safety and comfort, whilst using as little energy as practical. Energy-saving lamps are indeed energy-efficient solutions, although perhaps not very cost-effective for the consumer due to a higher purchase price.

The inner components of an energy-efficient bulb. But with all these components, and the mercury in the tube, to be disposed of, perhaps the bulbs are not so efficient overall.

The inner components of an energy-efficient bulb. But with all these components, and the mercury in the tube to be disposed of, perhaps the bulbs are not so efficient overall. Photo copyright Malcolm Pemberton 2012.

To be effective simply means that the job gets done well.Pouring petrol on an ants’ nest and setting fire to it is an effective way of getting rid of the ants, but there may be unwanted side-effects. A cost-effective solution concentrates on … well … costs, but may ignore, for example, aspects of quality. Jogging is an effective form of aerobic exercise, it really gets the heart pumping. On the other hand, armchair sport is an effective way of relaxing.

Tribute to Steve Jobs

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He will be sorely missed.
In terms of age, I came to computers rather late. I was already 45 before I started using computers on a regular basis, at home and at work. However, I consider myself lucky, because I started on Apple computers. We had these cute, round, blue ones at work, and I had a Macintosh SE30 at home (already old and cast off from the office).
Macintosh SE-30
This had a 16Mhz processor, which was pretty cool, at the time. According to Wiki “Although officially only able to support 32 MB, the SE/30 could expand up to 128 MB of RAM (a ludicrous amount of RAM at the time), and included a 40 or 80 MB hard drive. It was also the first compact Mac to include a 1.44 MB high density floppy disk drive as standard (late versions of the SE had one, but earlier versions did not.” Mine did 🙂 It is on these computers that I became a bit nerdy – I had to find out more – I had to know how they worked. Now, of course, floppy disks are already history, my current computer has 4GB of Ram and an over 500GB hard-disk – and the dual-processor speed is 2.1Ghz. Life moves on, so very quickly. I thank Steve for this early, painless and fascinating entry into the world of bits a bytes and all things nice. Rest in peace 🙂

Robots and Androids

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