Space, Segways and biostratification

And alternatives to Donkeys

Students managed to get into space by balloon, and for less than the cost of a student loan. You (and we) were very impressed.

I read The Register every day (that I'm at work) and sometimes on my day off. This the coolest story you've run this year.

A bunch of Uni students have put their beer down long enough to send a payload to 32km*, take pictures and safely recover it - even via a built in mobile phone. It's brilliant, first class stuff. Well done to them for doing it, and kudos to you guys for covering it.


*I refuse to use "feet" or other body parts for measurement. This is the 21st century, get used to metric! If the septics don't like it, look at your own history, you've been metric since 1893.

More on how much you would like us to stop quoting Jack Thompson in articles about video games causing violence in the real world:

Now that we know about Jack Thompson, I hope you do a Captain Cyborg-style blackout on your site and refrain from giving him any more coverage.

I had a look at a blog post ( which liberally quoted from Gill's Vampire Freaks page and it is clear that it was not Goth culture, video games or websites that were responsible. The guy was simply sick and I think you should have pointed that out. I'm sure Super Columbine Massacre did not make him that way, but it (and all the stuff on his page) is a pretty clear symptom of a deeper ill.


John Ferguson  

You thought Microsoft's £1.5m discount on offer to HMGov is worth less than the paper the agreement was printed on:

Shame on you publishing such an obvious puff piece from yet another useless government agency. Did nobody do the maths, have you completely lost the plot? You are promoting the fact that this dysfunctional group of bureaucrats thinks it is a result to get a 66.6p discount per user from Microsoft.

Some VP for Public Sector Sales in the UK just pissed his pants laughing and is going to get a nice fat pack of options from Santa Bill at Christmas. Get a grip and if you have to publish this tat, make sure you include the gags.


That is a saving of less than £1 per seat. Unless a complete seat of MS software costs a tenner, that's a fraction of a % of the costs. Be still my beating heart.


Virgin planes ban passengers from using their Apple and Dell notebooks over fears of exploding batteries. Plugged in is fine, however.

Why in the world would the airlines think that having the battery in luggage (where no one can access the burning battery) is safer than having it in the cabin where one could use a fire estinguisher? Do they think that having the battery ourside the laptop makes it safe? Don't they realize that if the battery breaks down due to defects in the material inside being poor quality the battery doesn't have to be in use to be dangerous?

Reference the laptop blowing up on the floor of a pickup truck. Do you think it was being used?

Wish we could see some relevant test data to show if it is more (or less) dangerous during operation.

Tom Stephenson

Are these people idiots? The problem was a fault in the production of the battery, which is just as likely to explode whether it's in the laptop whilst on, in the laptop whilst off, in the pocket of the seat in front of you or locked securely in the hold.

Arguably, leaving it in the laptop is the most sensible plan. If it's on the person's lap, they'll soon know about it. If it's in the laptop bag, then at least the encasing might prevent oxygen getting to the fire, and it can be dealt with by on-board fire extinguishers.

Putting it in the seat in front is likely to be the worst place, since the seats are probably the most flammable things on a plane; and checking the battery into the hold scares me -- if it exploded there, there would be no way for anyone to put it out (or even notice) until it was too late ...


The dwarf-planet formerly known as Xena has been given a new name. Yes, it is now called Eris. But the planet's status still troubles you:   Dear IAU

It must be called to your attention that Pluto, Eris, and Ceres are offended by being called "dwarf planets."  They find the term "dwarf' demeaning, and they would much prefer to be called "little planets."


This one came with the subject line "Eris and Skiing: a Smartarse's View"

Hi Chris,

of course, you can't ski on Eris;  it's far too cold.  The snow has to be able to melt under the pressure of the skis in order that they can slide on a cushion of water.  Some enterprising skiers have even incorporated heating elements into skis in order that they can go faster, or ski when it's too cold.

Personally, I believe skiing is a good thing only if you like hospitals.


Er, so, equipped with these melty skis, one can indeed ski on Eris?

We tried to understand a press release, but it was full of big, scary words. Like "biostratigraphy". Fortunately, we have you, our beloved readers, to explain things to us:

This shouldn't be much of a headache for anyone with a backing in geosciences/climate sciences, and refers to the widespread use of fossil foraminfera (a kind of planktonic animal) as indicators of paleoclimate and oceanic conditions, as well as being usable as zone fossils to determine the precise or relative age of a sediment (biostratigraphy).

Shudder instead for the mathematicians who have to endure such thought provoking papers as "Summing and nuclear norms in Barnach's space theory" (sp.)

Keep up the good work,


Thanks for bringing this up - as you are aware, the theory that the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous (including the dinosaurs) was caused by an asteroid impact has been under attack recently, but this is an interesting new piece of evidence in favour of the theory.

Shame you don't have a link, but the bit you quoted covered it. What part did you have trouble with? I confess I can't exactly remember what foramnifera are - some category of miscroscopic creepy-crawly, as far as I recall.


It all seems reasonably simple to me (and I'm not even a palaeontologist): there was some debate as to whether the Chicxulub crater (in the Yucatan) was really the impact site for the meteorite that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and most of the species on the planet (known as the KT-boundary, or apparently also the KPg-boundary).

By looking at the animal life present in the crater, rather than just the rocks (well, argon-dating, which is basically like carbon-dating, but more useful for long periods of time) the time of impact that caused the crater was found to be the same as the KT mass extinctions.

Some scientists had proposed that there were really three impacts around 65 million years ago: the Chicxulub impact, 300 thousand years before the 'big one'; the big one itself, whose crater lies somewhere undiscovered; and a third, smaller one, about 100 thousand years afterward.

To me, this latter theory sounds a bit too elaborate; after all, isn't the (gigantic) crater in Mexico big enough for you...?

Hope this clears up what *really* happened to the dinosaurs,

David Craven

Re the planktic foraminiferal biostratigraphy data, I hear this theory can be proven with the use of a Retro Encabulator; specifically the Differential Girdle Spring. ;-)

David Needham

Finally, all you Segwayers out there need to report back to HQ for an upgrade. Filed under "You couldn't make it up:

Is a game of Segway chicken actually possible? I can't decide whether the smugnetic field that I imagine surrounds all Segways is repulsive making a collision impossible, or attractive leading to an inevitable crunching of heads. I think a practical experiment should be conducted. Naturally, I'd love to have a go myself.


'off road' version? ROFIHL!

I assume by 'off-road' they mean you can now go off the road and onto the pavement without getting off and picking the sodding thing up (like the original was supposed to assuming that all pavements globally had a common kerb height about 1" below the current average).

Visions of armies of 'off road' Segway users suing 'cos they've been immobilised by overnight rain leap unbidden to mind. Weather forecasts will have to end "....and for 'off-road' Segway users, the going is described as good to firm".

Sorry to any Segway users out there (yes, you) but you brought it on yourself. Oh, and if you wear a helmet like the bloke in the HSBC advert, you're very, very sad.... As for "Segway Chicken". Given the recent successes of tech companies branching out into other areas (I mention no names, but employment and fruit are clues here), if I were Colonel Sanders, I'd be worried.


Which brings this letters round up to a close. We're off to biostratify samples of lager in the nearby pub. Back on Friday. ®

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