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Brian Raiter, proprietor of Muppet Labs, has created an astoundingly wonderful exercise showing how to create a Hello, World executable in quite literally as small a space as possible. I honestly can’t remember where I found this page. When I first started reading it I thought, ho hum, here’s another grad student trying to see how many optimizations they can trick gcc into accepting at once.

What I found, refreshingly, was a romp through the actual contents of an ELF executable and a lot of very good forensic engineering and creative thought to figure out how to get rid of the overhead. This is precisely the kind of engineering effort that embedded engineers do every day, and it is very easy to forget in today’s world of Android and Meego and other userland environments that require hundreds of megabytes of RAM and fast processors even to run at all. Most refreshing was the highly didactic style in which Brian writes.

Be sure to also read the writeup of the rest of Brian’s collection of tiny (and very educational) programs.

Normally this blog covers issues about open-source software and the industry around it. However, sometimes I have to share some really cool things that are only tangentially (if that) related to computing at all. For today, the cool thing theme is Flying Cars.

It is 2010, and many of us assumed we would be living in space pods, eating astronaut ice cream regularly, and getting to work in our Jetsons-style flying cars. A few of these things have happened—people DO live in the international space station pretty much full-time, and you can buy astronaut ice cream over the Internet. Flying cars, however, have eluded us.

Until now.

This year, two companies intend to take the flying car concept public, or at least make serious waves

Terrafugia Transition

The Terrafugia Transition is a “roadable aircraft” in the pre-production (FAA certification, possibly?) phase with first customer shipments expected in 2011. They don’t actually specify on their website, but with a useful load of 430 lbs and a 100hp engine, the Transition must be a 2-seat aircraft. Note that their prototype is flying (see photos & videos) and they are taking $10,000 deposits—the expected final price is in the $200,000 range.

Samson Switchblade

Samson Motorworks has taken a slightly different tack with the Switchblade. This 2-seater, 3-wheeled vehicle is actually classed as a motorcycle on the road, and the wings fold into the body rather than folding up next to it. The ducted fan is also a very slick. No flying prototype yet, but I have high hopes for Oshkosh. (And I wish I had high hopes for attending Oshkosh, sigh.)

Volante Aircraft, a sharp-looking kit with a flying prototype. The canard design reminds me very much of the Rutan Long-Eze, which was my absolute dream aircraft for many years. (ok, it still is)

UrbanAero X-Hawk, an interesting dual ducted fan design that seriously looks like something out of a science fiction story. The two large circles house rotor blades, sort of like enclosed helicopter rotors. I can hardly look at it without picturing Bruce Willis hanging off the side of it.

Parajet Automotive Skycar, the folks who drove and flew a dune buggy from London to Timbuktu! This one is radical and represents some serious out-of-the-box thinking, and also has the option of being very inexpensive.

LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1 – with 5 seats, this is the largest and most “family-friendly” design, although it also looks to me to be the most complex. In car mode, it also looks the most like an actual car, and a nice-looking one at that. They are still building the prototype. Expected cost is around $175k, putting it near the Terrafugia in price but with more payload.

Aerocar 2000, inspired by Moulton Taylor‘s original Aerocar design. With this one, the actual flight mechanism – pusher prop, wings, and empennage – are mounted on a normal car, in this case a Lotus Esprit (why not?). You must then leave the wings etc. at the airport, but that probably suits most circumstances well.

And no compendium would be complete without mentioning Paul Moller’s Skycar, though I won’t link to it—see Wikipedia for more information. In my opinion, Moller has made great strides in capturing imaginations and in separating investment dollars from their prior owners, but with no viable product in 40 years of development and a host of lawsuits, I fail to see how the Skycar will ever see the showroom. I invite him to prove me wrong.

As a full-time telecommuter AND a holder of a pilot’s certificate, I look forward to these developments with great anticipation. When I was flying regularly, I could get to work for meetings in 5 hrs by driving, or in 1 hr in the air, though there was always the problem of transportation on the other end. I see these vehicles as the start of a new industry that can enable people to live out-far, as I do, and only show up at work physically when absolutely necessary. That is excellent news for the planet.

Keep in mind, of course, that even if it is called a “car” you will still need a pilot’s certificate in order to actually operate these vehicles in the air. For the Switchblade at least, you will also need a motorcycle authorization on your driver’s license in most US states and Canada. And for any of them you will need a lot of training, practice, and the thing that actually keeps airplanes up in the air: money.

However, the chances that you will have the coolest car in the parking lot at work are 100%.

I actually went on vacation this past week, can you believe it? Also making the transition to Google Mail, which is keeping me busy. Some fascinating open source links this week, though.

In particular, redhat‘s new magazine/blog is flourishing. Some great articles that have appeared already:

Also: CoWare introduces embedded Linux via SaaS, looks very interesting.

I have been lame this week about keeping up with the blog – big project in the works that I’ll disclose in due course. Meanwhile, enjoy these fascinating links.