Give me a second, I’m booting up

New laptops that boot up in 30 seconds? Too slow for me. Five seconds? Better. But what I want is a machine that is ready in about a second, just like my smartphone.

I’m fully aware that expressing any impatience with a computer’s boot time invites derision. When the entire globe is engulfed in an economic crisis, measuring the seconds required to start different computers may seem the most trivial of concerns.

Still, I’m not alone. Unhappiness with boot times, which commonly run from 45 seconds to 60 seconds, is shared by many computer users, as reflected in much online discussion of the issue.

I’ve come to believe that the unhappiness does not illustrate impatience. Rather, it reflects an important shift in computing, as we increasingly rely on our laptops not as machines that we use for long stretches at a time, but as machines for using the Internet, often and briefly, and not much else. We don’t tolerate, and have never tolerated, long wait times that are disproportionate to the activity that follows them. If we need to spend only a few seconds looking up something on the Web, it’s only natural that we want the preparatory time to be as close to zero as possible. It’s not impatience, just proportionality.

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U.S. border agents capture Mexican troops

Seven members of the Mexican military were found inside the United States, telling border agents they had become disoriented while on patrol and accidentally crossed into the country, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said.

The incident began about 8 a.m. Friday, when the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Arizona, sector was notified that a military-style Hummer was broken down, Customs and Border Patrol said in a written statement.

Agents said they found the vehicle about 200 yards from the Colorado River, and the seven individuals were dressed in military-style clothing. Customs and Border Patrol later determined that the troops’ entry was unauthorized.

U.S. agents told the Mexican troops they were inside the United States and “peaceably” took them into custody, the statement said. “At no time were any hostilities exchanged between the agents and military officials.”

The Hummer was equipped with a turret-mounted machine gun…

“This is not an uncommon occurrence,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, told CNN. “Often times, it is the result of the Mexican military providing cover essentially for drug transportation across into our country, and/or creating a diversion so it will draw our people away from the place where the drugs are coming across.”

In August, the Border Patrol said Mexican troops had crossed the border illegally 42 times since October 2007.

Silly me. I thought they probably just got lost. Although – talking to friends who just returned from the Yuma area – it’s pretty difficult to get lost there.

Magnetic portals connect Sun and Earth


Artist’s conception of a FTE

During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn’t believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.

“It’s called a flux transfer event or ‘FTE,'” says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn’t exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible…”

Researchers have long known that the Earth and sun must be connected. Earth’s magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet’s magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun’s atmosphere.

“We used to think the connection was permanent and that solar wind could trickle into the near-Earth environment anytime the wind was active,” says Sibeck. “We were wrong. The connections are not steady at all. They are often brief, bursty and very dynamic…”

There are many unanswered questions: Why do the portals form every 8 minutes? How do magnetic fields inside the cylinder twist and coil? “We’re doing some heavy thinking about this…” says Sibeck.

Meanwhile, high above your head, a new portal is opening, connecting your planet to the sun.

Stunning and provocative. Read the article and other suggested materials at the NASA site.

Lewis Hamilton – the youngest champion in Formula One history


Photo by Daylife/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton became the youngest world champion in Formula One history by the skin of his teeth after a nail-biting Brazilian Grand Prix.

The English McLaren driver’s title rival Felipe Massa won the race in his Ferrari but Hamilton grabbed the fifth place he needed – at the last corner.

A late-race rain shower looked to have cost Hamilton the title when he dropped to sixth after a stop for wet tyres.

But he passed Toyota’s Timo Glock as they entered the pit straight.

Renault’s Fernando Alonso, the previous youngest champion, was second ahead of Massa’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel.

The article can’t capture the anxiety and tense anticipation of that last lap.

My wife and I are fans of Lewis Hamilton [and McLaren]. I had to stop the DVR and replay those last 20 or 30 seconds a couple of times just to be certain Lewis had gotten that 5th place needed for the world championship.

Massa and Ferrari were inspired these past few races – even without the micro-managing of the FIA. One of the best seasons I’ve ever witnessed. And I’ve followed most of them.

USB key with personal data of 12 million is found in parking lot


USB memory stick found in parking lot

Ministers have been forced to order an emergency shutdown of a key Government computer system to protect millions of people’s private details. The action was taken after a memory stick was found in a pub car park containing confidential passcodes to the online Government Gateway system, which covers everything from tax returns to parking tickets.

An urgent investigation is now under way into how the stick, belonging to the company which runs the flagship system, came to be lost.

Users trying to log on to the site yesterday were met by the message: ‘The Government Gateway is temporarily offline. We apologise for any inconvenience. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.’

This year alone, 1.8 million people have submitted their tax returns on the system.

Members of the public registering for the service have to provide their personal details, which can include names, addresses, wages, National Insurance numbers and credit card details.

It’s not just that the British Government’s security protocols were obviously designed by the Looney Party. They’ve made it clear they can screw up just about anything – and will.

Here in the states, at least we can count on corruption and cronyism to give us a hint of what to watch for. Incompetence leaves every possible door open for screw-ups.

Coffins on wheels prompts resignation of British Commander

A commander of the elite special forces in Afghanistan has resigned. Major Sebastian Morley, a reservist commander with the Special Air Service (SAS), blamed a chronic lack of investment in equipment for the deaths of some of his soldiers.

He described the failure to equip his troops with heavy armoured vehicles as “cavalier at best, criminal at worst,” the paper reported.

The Ministry of Defence and the government have faced repeated criticism from senior officers and politicians over equipment shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month, a coroner said defence chiefs should “hang their heads in shame” over the lack of proper equipment and training that contributed to the death of a British soldier during a rescue in an Afghan minefield.

The Telegraph report said Morley thought his soldiers were needlessly put at risk because they were forced to travel in lightly armoured Land Rovers rather than heavier vehicles.

The debate over where and when nations put their soldiers at risk is a separate topic. I have friends who have served in Afghanistan for more than one tour of duty and they know they have my support and respect.

That doesn’t extend to the pimps running the Pentagon – or British military procurement. Yes, I’m as convinced as ever that the process only has one goal: maximize profits for the vendors.

Unnecessary deaths of soldiers in harm’s way is the result.

Users to invent ideal portable PC. Uh-huh.

Intel and manufacturer ASUS have launched a project asking people to say what they would like to see in a PC. The companies are asking people to “dream the impossible” to help design the first community-designed PC.

I know, I know. This reads like a barely-filtered PR release.

A website, WePC.com, has been set up to allow people to share and comment on ideas to “enable a global conversation about the ideal elements of a PC.”

Both companies insist the project is not simply cheap talk, saying there is a commitment to building the machine. “The spark for innovation can come from anywhere,” said Intel’s Mike Hoeffinger…

The companies will also award prizes to some for their creative efforts

That’s certainly the interesting part for me. Har!

The easy answer? Hire Jonny Ive away from Apple.

Mexico death industry booming from drug war killings


Daylife/AP photo by Guillermo Arias

Mexico’s drug wars are fueling a boom in the funeral industry near the U.S. border as undertakers capitalize on soaring murder rates and gruesome killings…

“We’ve seen a big increase in the number of clients because of the drug war, especially since September. It’s gone from a few (bodies) a week to one or two every day,” said Fernando, a funeral home owner in Tijuana across the border from San Diego, California. He declined to give his last name.

About 4,000 people have been killed in Mexico this year as gangs vie for control of the cocaine trade amid a crackdown that has thousands of army troops battling drug cartels on their home turf.

Gun battles and gangland mutilations are also boosting demand for facial reconstructions. Funeral parlors can charge more than $1,000 to make the dead presentable for their wakes.

And because of the rise in decapitations in the city, undertakers offer to hold the body and wait for the head to be found before proceeding with the funeral…

Ain’t nothing like a growth industry is there?

The French Fruit Fly and politicians who don’t get science


Coming from Sarah Palin, it sounded like the ultimate folly: U.S. taxpayer money funding a study of fruit flies in Paris, France. But…the studies, actually carried out at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory near Montpellier, 750 kilometers south of Paris, may help protect California olive trees from a serious pest, scientists say.

California had been blissfully free of major olive pests until the olive fruit fly turned up near Los Angeles in 1998. Today, it’s a “huge economic problem” around the state, says entomologist Frank Zalom of the University of California, Davis. Most growers now protect their crops with insecticides. Releasing a natural enemy might provide an alternative; it would also help protect olive trees in gardens and along roadsides that don’t usually get sprayed, Zalom says.

Of course, ain’t anyone growing too many olives in Alaska. I guess we’re to presume that Alaskans don’t give a hoot about agriculture in the lower 48 – especially California?

To fight invasive insects, entomologist Kim Hoelmer says it’s important to be able to study them over the long term in their native habitats–in the olive fruit fly’s case, the Mediterranean region and Africa.

Hoelmer says that he believes he could convince anybody, including Palin, that his work is worthwhile. But as a government researcher, he can’t comment on political speeches. Zalom can. “This kind of stuff always drives me nuts,” he says. “It’s a total lack of understanding of the importance of research.”

I’d take it a step further and presume that a creationist politician probably has little understanding of any scientific methods.