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Archive for February, 2009

Prophecies: sound-cancelling earplugs

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Ben recently made me aware of this article about earplugs that protect the hearing of soldiers:

British troops getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan are being issued with electronic sound-cancelling earplugs designed to let them hear what they need to — orders, conversations, enemy footfalls — but prevent hearing damage caused by explosions, gunfire and so on.

Science fiction author Larry Niven predicted this technology in 1975. From his story “The Borderland of Sol”:

“Earplugs,” said Ausfaller, holding up a handful of soft plastic cylinders.

We inserted them. Ausfaller said, “Can you hear me?”

“Sure.” “Yah.” They didn’t block our hearing at all.

“Transmitter and hearing aid with sonic padding between. If you are blasted with sound, as by an explosion or a sonic stunner, the hearing aid will stop transmitting. If you go suddenly deaf, you will know you are under attack.”

The real-world earplugs are slightly better than Niven’s; instead of cutting off all sound, they can simply reduce it to a safe level. (So you can hear the explosion without suffering hearing damage from it.) But apart from that detail, Niven’s description was spot on.

Blog repaired

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Finally! After months of not being able to update this blog, I have overhauled the software on my site so that I can start posting again. I don’t know what happened last year, but the Movable Type software on my server got screwed up so badly that even completely reinstalling it didn’t fix the problems. The blog still looked normal, but when I logged into the Movable Type console, parts of it were scrambled and nonfunctional.

I knew that I would have to back up my files and then delete Movable Type completely, wiping the slate clean. Then I could install MT from scratch, restore my old blog posts from the backups, and hopefully go on from there. All I needed was the spare time to work on it. Unfortunately, I was involved in plays continually from August through December of last year. And since then, other things have demanded my attention.

But today, I finally was able to spend a whole day backing up and obliterating my old MT installation, installing the latest version, and then restoring my old data. Everything seems to be working now.

I hope to get back into the habit of regular blogging in the days and weeks to come, and to give this site a makeover. It looks dusty and neglected. Time to blow the cobwebs out of here.