Plus they play Blu-Rays

1,760 PlayStation 3s form new supercomputer

Putting 1,760 Sony PlayStation 3s in one room might make for the most awesome “Call of Duty: Black Ops” game ever. And, as Air Force researchers have discovered, they can also create the Defense Department’s largest interactive supercomputer.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, formally unveiled the supercomputer, nicknamed the “Condor Cluster,” earlier this month.

Not only is it fast — the laboratory’s high performance computing director says it’s about the 35th-fastest computer in the world — and “green,” it was cheap, too. The laboratory spent about $2 million, which Wright-Patterson says is less than one-10th the cost of using traditional computer equipment.

The Condor Cluster will be used to process satellite imagery.

Really Low Earth Orbit

‘Programming error’ caused Russian rocket failure

A Russian Proton rocket failed to get three Glonass satellites into orbit over the weekend, apparently due to computer programming issues. Glonass is the Russian equivalent of GPS. They’ve been trying to get the whole system back online after if fell into disrepair in the 1990s.

Here’s a bit from the AFP article:

Once separated from the Proton launch rocket, the upper-stage booster rocket with the three satellites aboard should have put them in orbit about 20 kilometres (12 miles) above the earth.

Wow. Just think how fast those things must be going to maintain orbit at only 12 miles. And the system works by listening for the things screaming overhead. “We just heard number seven, comrade, and that’s number fifteen. This must be Siberia.

Okay, the article was probably supposed to say “20,000 km (12,000 miles),” which is about what Wikipedia says these things normally orbit at.

Dragoons Help Afghan Air Force

Air Mobility Liaison Officer, Air Force Lt. Col. Stacy Massey, left, teaches Sfc. Ricardo Morales how to check for wind velocity.
Air Mobility Liaison Officer, Air Force Lt. Col. Stacy Massey, left, teaches Sfc. Ricardo Morales how to check for wind velocity. Photo by Sgt. Gerald Wilson.

The instrument in Massey’s right hand is a Kestrel Pocket Wind Meter by Nielsen-Kellerman. The NV series of Kestrels is designed with military users in mind and are used by a wide range of users. The latest models incorporate Bluetooth to eliminate the need for cords when connecting to a computer or other equipment. Murdoc loves these things.

CFLs and LEDs

Glenn Reynolds points out this Popular Mechanics story: Will LED Light Bulbs Best Your CFLs and Incandescents?

I’ve been waiting for LEDs as home bulb options for years. And one is finally here. At $30.

That’s not an option. I guess we’ll have to wait some more.

While waiting, we’ve used a large number of CFLs, most of them installed in the summer of 2007. According to onebillionbulbs.com, we’ve saved $527 and prevented 7,415 pounds of CO2 from being produced. Now, those numbers are A) dependent upon the usage info I entered (though I did try to be conservative) and B) probably complete crap. But we’ve had pretty good success.

We’ve used a total of 30 CFLs since 2007, and 27 of them are still in use. (One was DOA, one went out after a few months in a fixture that had a history of blowing bulbs every few days, and one was a three-way CFL bulb that went out after about a year of heavy use.) Though the color of the light varies on the different brands of bulbs, we’ve swapped them around in a few cases where we wanted a different look in a particular area; we’ve never had any real issue with the color being a problem of any kind.

We also use one bulb outside on our porch. Though normal CFLs are not recommended for use outdoors, I wanted to try one to see how it perfromed, which is why I had also gone right ahead and put one into the incandescent-eating machine earlier. Though the porch light takes a minute or two to warm up in the winter, the bulb has worked just fine for a couple of years now. This is great, because that light often gets left on accidentally for extended periods and the CFL is 13 watts vs. 60 for the previous incandescent.

So, overall, our CFL experience has been a very positive one. But I still want LEDs.

Unclean! Unclean!

A number of readers have alerted Murdoc to a possible virus problem with his sites. After checking into it, tech support found some infected files in an old installation and will be removing them shortly.

I hope this takes care of the issue. Many thanks to those who took the time to let me know, as I was not seeing it on my end.

My apologies.

UPDATE: This looks like it might be resolved now.

Watch What You Click

A reader sends this:

Beware United Airlines’ tricksy check-in kiosks or you’ll pay hundreds more

If I had pressed the wrong buttons on a recent cross-county flight I took, I would have accidentally paid another $523.68. How did I know they were the wrong buttons? Simple: They were colored and placed to look like the correct buttons.

Intentionally tricking customers into unwittingly spending more money is maybe not illegal but it is unethical.

This reminds me of Turbo-Tax’s “if you would have clicked the grayed-out button off to the side, it would have functioned properly” crap I recently fell for.

United Airlines deserved to be mocked, ridiculed, and publicly flogged for this. Tell all your friends. Send emails. Mock them and call them unethical. Threaten to fly Delta over this.

Then they can decide whether or not their shady ploy makes good business sense. If they still think it’s worth it, good for them.

Turbo Tax and the Ask a Tax Expert Rip-Off

turbo tax tax expert rip off
Turbo Tax:
Choose Easy
But look very closely before doing so. They may be trying to trick you.

Murdoc has used Turbo Tax Online for many years now, and he’s always been happy with the service. Until last night.

While going through a few things, I saw that I had been charged for their ‘Ask a Tax Expert’ offer, even though I had not wanted it. After wading through hundreds of complaints on their forum, I just sent a message in directly stating that I had not wanted to sign up and that it looked like users were unable to get out of it without starting completely over with a new account. As I said, I’ve used the service for many years and don’t really want to ditch all that and start a new account.

Here is their reply about the issue:

TurboTax Online – “No Thanks” button is unavailable on the Ask a Tax Expert offer, when starting a new return

The “No Thanks” button is actually gray in color as it was designed, but this is still a fully functioning button that can be clicked.

If you had already selected “Sign Up Now, Pay when you file” the fee will not be able to be removed from your account unless you clear the return and start over.

You can pay this fee when you file, and as long as you don’t use the service, you can request a refund for the $14.95 charge. (This way you wouldn’t need to clear the return and start over.)

You can use the ‘Contact Us’ page to request a refund.

Read that first paragraph again:

The “No Thanks” button is actually gray in color as it was designed, but this is still a fully functioning button that can be clicked.

It is gray in color as it was designed. But if you manage to click on it it will work.

I emailed them back:

It’s refreshing to see a company flat out admit that they are trying to rip you off. Thanks for clearing up that you designed it badly on purpose but that it works just fine even though it’s intentionally hard to understand.

Will the buttons on the refund request page be grayed out on purpose, too? Or will we be able to understand the process without you going out of your way to make it hard to get our money back after you tricked us out of it in the first place?

Now, I’m sure a lot of people have managed to avoid signing up for the service. And I admit that my familiarity with the system probably contributed to the fact that totally missed the fact that I was opting in to something that I would never ever never ever sign up for on purpose.

But they must have known that no one would ever sign up, because they had to try to trick people into doing so. And, though I haven’t paid them any money, they’re playing the whole “get a refund afterwards” game like their system somehow is preventing them from allowing people who have not paid and have not used it from switching it off.

For probably ten years or more I’ve recommended Turbo Tax to friends and family. But this $15 “error” has really shaken my faith. Obviously, I’m a little irritated right now. Jerks.