Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hopeful News for Your New Week

Of course, I have to start with an alternate energy link. I've been fascinated by the idea of thermoelectric materials since my Physics classes introduced me to them. Basically, they can convert voltage differences into heat differences and vice versa, with no moving parts. Such a thing would seem to have all sorts of interesting uses, but they share an Achilles heel with photovoltaic cells: inefficiency. Ars Technica presents some news that researchers are doubling the efficiency of thermoelectric materials. Given their potential applications harvesting waste heat and converting it back into electrical power to incresase the efficiency of any manner of devices, it's a pretty cool development.

I'll admit, most of you folks probably don't have the interst in odd power technology that I do, but I bet this long hoped for development has wider appeal. Apparently, the war in Iraq is finally taken a turn for the better. This AP analysis tells tales of reduced violence, routed insurgent groups, and people visiting parks. It's certainly hopeful news from a region deeply in need of all the hope they can find.

And if that wasn't enough to lift your spirits, how about the possibility for a cure to AIDS? Well, scientists at the University of Texas think they have found a way to defeat the virus in a way that defeats its method of avoiding normal immune system attacks. If it proves successful in human trials, one of the greatest plages of our time could be defeated. God speed.

There is some hope out there amid the insanity. Y'all have a good week.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Time for a New Look

The brown color scheme of the site was really beginning to grate on me. So over the last couple of days I have been messing with the color scheme. I'm going to try to forget the blue and gray attempt of the past couple of days. I really hope you will too if you saw it... I'm pretty lousy with the aesthetics, so I went googling for some online tools to help me come up with some decent colors, which is how I found the Color Combinations site. After poking around for a while, looking at the different color schemes they showed, I decided I liked the colors they were using the best. So in traditional web fashion, I swiped 'em for my own purposes. While I was in the template, I did some other CSS tweaks to improve the general look of post layouts. Let me know what you think about the changes. If you didn't notice anything different, well, that's OK too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If You Didn't Watch Cartoons in the 80's, Skip This

If you did watch cartoons in the 80's this may bring back a few memories.


HEROES UNITE: The Ultimate 80's Tribute from Joshiro007x on Vimeo.

One Person's Solar Power Example

Given my passive obsession with solar power, I was intrigued to learn that ExtremeTech's Loyd Case has posted articles about having solar panels installed on his home. The first is about the installation and the second is a one month followup. Note the unexpected maintenance task of cleaning ash from the California fires off the panels. It's interesting to see solar power becoming more viable as a consumer product. I'm also really glad I don't have the kind of power bills he does...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Concerning The Dark Knight

Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster.
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

Chances are pretty good that you don't need me to tell you to go see The Dark Knight. It's a Batman movie; even the bad ones are hits. But having just seen it myself, I can't help but blather forth some minor commentary. I'll avoid spoilers and just talk in general terms because you really do want to go into this one with as little foreknowledge of the details as possible. Because the details in this movie are completely fantastic.

The Dark Knight may indeed be based on characters from a comic book, but this is no comic book movie. Quite the contrary, it is easily the most serious treatment of the subject matter that's ever been on screen. And it has the verisimilitude that its predecessor, Batman Begins, lacked. The movie's ensemble cast allows the eponymous hero to remain mostly in the shadows, where he belongs. This is a movie about not just the Batman, but the people around him, and by extension the people of Gotham city as a whole. It is about facing the worst choice in your life and dealing with the consequences. It's about society crumbling. It's about fear. It's about chaos. In short, it's about the Joker.

Every matter has its antimatter, every Superman his Kryptonite. Batman's arch nemesis is, of course, the Joker. He's been portrayed on screen before. But this time around Joker is not the comic figure of Cesar Romero, or the slick, over-the-top criminal portrayed by Jack Nicholson. The movie's writers and Heath Ledger have evoked a Joker that is something very different, and a whole lot darker. Batman is a tragic figure, a vigilante on a madman's quest. But he's also a good guy who's moral code keeps him just barely sane. He may dwell in the shadows, but shadows can not be cast without some light. This Joker is Nietzsche's abyss staring back into Batman. He is your own worst impulses given free reign. This time around, the Joker is something he hasn't been in a very long time. He is terrifying.

I went in thinking there was no way it could live up to the hype. I was wrong. Hearing a bit of the Oscar buzz, I had doubts that any movie based on a comic would ever allow for a performance that the Academy would recognize. No longer. What I'm saying here is that I liked it. A bunch. And I think if you don't mind a dark, edge-of-your-seat thriller, you will probably like it too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Going Up Causes Going Down, Not Going Up Much Longer, and Going Up

Recent news brings us one study that claims something good will come of high gas prices: fewer automobile fatalities. Apparently people slowing down to save gas also causes the rate of fatal accidents to drop. I really, really want to make a snide remark about people who would find this surprising. But I won't.

NASA has set a tentative date for the final space shuttle mission. It's probably not a hard date, since it's based on mission windows, but if things go to schedule the last shuttle mission will fly at the end of May 2010. NASA's Constellation program will eventually fill the gap left by the retirement of the aging shuttle program. I was in grade school back in the early 80s when the shuttles started launching, and we would pause in whatever class we were in to watch the news broadcast of the liftoffs. These days launches barely get a mention, but the shuttles' place in history is assured.

And what would a news summary be without some info on yet another advancement in solar cell technology. This time around, it's an improvement in polymer based solar cells. This type of cell is cheaper to manufacture than the normal silicon cell, but currently far less efficient.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is Everyone Becoming a Stenographer?

This year's crop of new words in the dictionary got me thinking about the language. I'm a pretty terrible speller; too much rote memorization for my taste. And in many languages, of which English is a prime example, there are precious few patterns that hold consistently. We have to deal with words that sound the same, but have different spellings and having more sounds to express than we have letters to express them with. But people are writing more than ever before, thanks to modern technology. Web sites, e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging are conspiring to make it necessary for everyone to write, or more specifically type, all the time.

The real time nature of instant messaging and the user interface limitations of phone text messaging have spawned all sorts of abbreviated ways of typing things as well as a variety of symbolic representations. The increasing use of these abbreviations has even been a cause of concern for some. But people abbreviating written language for speedy use is far from a new trend. It even has a formal name: shorthand. Shorthand forms were very widely used before recording machines were available. Even today there are a couple of professions that require the transcription speed that shorthand allows.

As speedy written communication becomes more pervasive in our lives, it's natural to assume that we will develop ways of facilitating that speed. The use of text messaging and Internet shorthand is hardly something to be feared, rather it is an indication of the increased importance of the written word in our everyday lives. It is possible that some of the shorthand forms used now will be absorbed into the language in such a way as to take on their own meaning without the currently necessary context. It has happened before. Have you ever heard "the proof is in the pudding?" Do you know what that phrase means? Did you know the actual saying is "the proof of the pudding is in the tasting?" Does that matter anymore? The word laser used to be the acronym LASER. Etc. (Rather than et cetera.) Who knows, some day you may be able to look in a dictionary (or on Google more likely) and see something like this:

lol v. - to verbally express amusement [from abbr. laughing out loud]