Where “SCRAM” comes from

The control room harkens back to a more analog era, when instruments on the wall looked like not much more than a piece of spiral graph paper behind glass and there was a noticeable lack of computer screens. There’s also the all-important SCRAM button, for emergency shut-down of the reactor. A museum sign explains the history of the acronym, which comes from an earlier plant, Chicago Pile-1, and a rather rudimentary-sounding emergency system.

The Chicago plant is notable for being the first to reach a state in which its nuclear-fission chain reaction was self-sustaining. Despite that achievement, however, emergency precautions at the time weren’t very high-tech, at least by today’s standards. Those precautions included workers suspending a thin rod of cadmium from a rope so that it dangled above a hole in the reactor. They used cadmium because it can slow down or stop a nuclear reaction by absorbing neutrons, hopefully stemming a disaster. But there was no automatic mechanism to make the cadmium fall into the hole. Instead, a museum sign explains, a “sturdy young male physicist stood by the rope, holding an axe.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) If something went wrong, he’d “swing his axe and cut the rope, plunging the rod into its hole and shutting down the reaction instantly.” That earned him the name “Safety Control Rod Axe Man,” now SCRAM for short.

Add this to the list of jobs I never want to have! Tour the World’s First Nuclear Power Plant via The Smithsonian Magazine. 

Experimenting with the six hour working day

A Swedish retirement home may seem an unlikely setting for an experiment about the future of work, but a small group of elderly-care nurses in Sweden have made radical changes to their daily lives in an effort to improve quality and efficiency.

In February the nurses switched from an eight-hour to a six-hour working day for the same wage – the first controlled trial of shorter hours since a rightward political shift in Sweden a decade ago snuffed out earlier efforts to explore alternatives to the traditional working week.

At Svartedalens, the trial is viewed as a success, even if, with an extra 14 members of staff hired to cope with the shorter hours and new shift patterns, it is costing the council money. Ann-Charlotte Dahlbom Larsson, head of elderly care at the home, says staff wellbeing is better and the standard of care is even higher.

And Svartedalens isn’t the first comany to try this, Toyota and Brath have also had great success, proving that a convential eight hour day doesn’t necesessarily mean better output or a higher quality of work.

Via The Guardian: Efficiency up, turnover down: Sweden experiments with six-hour working day

Barcode history is probably more interesting than you thought

It had been calculated that only ten digits were needed; the barcode had to be readable from any direction and at speed; there must be fewer than one in 20,000 undetected errors.

Based largely on morse code, and originally intended to streamline the checkout process at a supermarket, the barcode has a pretty interesting history. Iterate, iterate, iterate; and eventually success ensues, as does widespread adoption of new and useful technologies.

Read more about it here, via the Smithsonian Magazine.

To block, or not to block – that is the question

Ad blockers are nothing new to most desktops, almost every modern browser that I’m aware of has some sort of option, plugin or extension that allows us to block advertisements while surfing the web.

An interesting topic (debate?) has emerged in the news and social media now that iOS 9 has dropped, which is the newly added feature Apple has included in mobile Safari to allow for third-party applications to filter and remove advertisements.

So what’s at stake?

For the consumer

On the plus side, you save in bandwidth, but how much is really up for debate. I have no idea, nor any way to measure, how much of my browsing is advertising versus content.  From home,  ads are blocked so it’s not a big deal.

For the website owner

It’s a negative, right? Many sites offer premium content at no charge, relying on advertising clickthroughs or page impressions to cover operational costs. I did this for a long while on a privately hosted blog to offset the costs to run the server, and the bandwidth.

This probably hurts small sites more than more than larger sites such as news publications that also bring in revenue from print and television commercials.

Conclusions and thoughts

I really hadn’t thought much about this until I started seeing discussions online. On one hand, advertisements can be extremely anoying. On the other hand, if I’m visiting a site and enjoying the content without having to pay a penny, are they so bad? As long as the advertisement doesn’t jump up full screen or start to auto-play some garbage, I think I can deal with them in support of the site.

Bottom line? With bandwidth not being an issue (and a seemingly implausable excuse) I don’t think I’ll be blocking ads on my mobile devices. I may not click on the ads, unless on accident, but maybe the pageviews alone can help.


Wired: Please don’t block our ads
NRP: With Ad Blocking Use On The Rise, What Happens To Publishers?


My office Friday and Saturday was the Richmond Speedway, where I hung out with Dawn and a couple other NASA folks who were manning a booth demonstrating the Resource Prospector. This is a rover in development that will scour the Moon for water beneath the surface, take core samples, and examine the specimin to determine what’s in it, and if it can be used by man, should we try to colonize the moon.

All in all, it was really great to see how interested the kids were in driving the rover, the questions they asked, and the questions their parents had. Just goes to show that science isn’t boring in the right context, and that kids really do enjoy learning – even if they claim the opposite.

Then this guy walked by: