Friday, November 28, 2008

One of the Lucky Ones

As I sit here this day-after-Thanksgiving evening, I am profoundly aware of how good my life is right now. I know too many people who are looking for jobs, too many people that have recently lost loved ones, and too many people who are sick to consider myself anything but amazingly blessed. I would ask if you read this, please take a moment and give thanks for what you have. Skip for a brief moment, the annoyances, the worries, the fears, the burdens, and the trials of your life and find something to be thankful for. Perhaps the roof over your head, or the computer you have access to that allows you to see these words. Perhaps you have family or friends nearby, or even far away. Maybe all you can do is take a deep breath and take a moment to savor the feeling of your lungs expanding.

As we move into the Christmas season, we can tend to dwell on the poor shape the world is in, and there certainly is enough unhappy news out there to depress you. Chances are good that something bad has happened to you this year, or is happening to you now. Believe it or not, it will be all right. It may take a struggle, and a miracle or three, but all things can be surmounted. Focus for just a moment on the good things. A smile from a random guy/gal passing by in the crowd. A few hours of free time to watch a sporting event. The crisp smell of cold morning air.

I know that I am one of the lucky ones, my blessings too numerous to count. Even as I acknowledge that, it helps to remind myself that even the little things count, things like the leftover Thanksgiving turkey and homemade dressing that is about to become my dinner. It's something to remember as we once again begin our journey to the manger, following the ever-bright star of hope.

Too Creepy to Pass Up

A giant squid with elbowed tentacles sounds like the subject of the Sci-Fi channel's latest terrible movie, but it's quite real. A Shell remotely operated vehicle caught a rare glimpse of the animal loitering near a drilling site. And thanks to National Geographic, you can now see the footage. Yes kids, real life is weirder than you imagine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Musical Time Travel, Updated

Since the fourth season, or the thirty first depending on how pedantic you are, has just been released on DVD, this is an appropriate time to link to an updated version of a video I linked before containing all the Doctor Who themes. It's far better because it doesn't have the inane intro, and it actually has all the television incarnations of the theme. Well, almost, the second of the three modern versions is missing. Pedantic again, I know. Enjoy, and if the Daleks show up, stay behind the couch. Warning: if you haven't seen season 4 yet, the last theme contains a pretty big spoiler.

The Lesson For the Day

Gather around folks, I've got an important lesson for you today: don't keep your naughty photos on your cell phones. Sheesh.

Today's Theme is Efficiency

Articles in the news about new "greener" technologies and practices are seemingly everywhere these days. Local news programs, national networks, and even my church are all talking about efficiency, reducing waste, and other ways of being better stewards of the planet. Given my long standing interest in watching high tech solutions to environmental issues go from science fiction to reality, and its recent dominance of my news link-posts, I figure it's well past time that environmental tech and related postings got their own label. Welcome to the first "green tech" post. No doubt others will be following, since I'm apparently standing at the edge of a pragmatic environmental movement I didn't even know had a name: bright green environmentalism. And that's about enough blather from me, on with the nifty tech links.

First up, MIT and NASA are teaming up to design airplanes that are not only more efficient, but are quieter too. Anyone who lives near an airport can get behind that initiative.

Wind turbines suffer from varying efficiency at different wind speeds and current transmissions add cost and mechanical inefficiencies. Using a series of simple, innovative changes, one company claims their new generator can increase wind turbine generated power output by an average fifty percent. And since it uses fewer mechanical parts, it can keep costs down as well, which is critically important in the competitive energy market.

Ars Technica reports on the recent EPA Climate Leaders meeting, and the potential effects of the current credit crunch on corporate efficiency projects. It's an interesting look at how businesses look at the opportunities available to them.

Finally, I've mentioned before that compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are much more efficient than incandescents, but they contain murcury. Since murcury poses a health hazard, CFLs are hard to dispose of. Also, I hate flourescent lights. Barring the appearance of some sort of high efficiency incandescent bulb, Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs are the next best option. They are more efficient than CFLs, long lasting, and don't flicker. Or so the reports go. I haven't seen one in a store. However, I did find some available at ThinkGeek and a different selection at Amazon. In theory, over the life of the bulb, you would recoup the initial investment several times over through electricity savings. Unfortunately, I'm not quite willing to shell out one hundred dollars on a 100W-equivalent bulb without seeing what the light looks like first. But, it's nice to see the technology out there in the market.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Helping Save the World, also Zapping it From the Sky With Lasers

Where do you have to go to find America's most energy efficient and environmentally sustainable hotel? Turns out, it's right here in Greensboro. It's a pretty nifty story of technology in action. Of course if that's not high tech enough for you, how about using ten thousand degree plasma to turn trash into electricity.

No sir, it doesn't get any better than high energy plasma. Well, unless the military decided to fund research into flying cars. Or maybe if in an announcement about the military putting solid state laser weapons into production, there was a quote from someone referred to as the "beam cannon chief."

Sorry, you're going to have to provide your own "that's what she said joke" for that last story. I'm not going to sink to such lows. Today. At least not without using some sort of rhetorical trick.

Headline Hunting in the Holy Land

"Monks brawl at Christian holy site in Jerusalem." Christianity, you're doing it wrong.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Hyperbole is Killing Me!

OK, I've been good. I haven't said anything directly about the election here. Nobody cares what some random programmer from the battleground state that didn't matter thinks about politics, and I know it. But enough is enough.

I'm begging, please, everyone take a deep breath and get a grip. Hey, all you big C Conservatives, the free market isn't going to be destroyed, your guns aren't going to be taken, your SUVs will still be in your driveways, and CEOs will still make a disproportionately ridiculous amount of money. Hey, all you big L Liberals, global warming isn't solved, universal health care still doesn't exist, there's still a couple of wars on, and see also all that stuff I just said to the Conservatives.

Yes, the election of Barack Obama is a big deal, but it isn't the end of the world or the beginning of a new world. Congress is mostly the same. The courts are mostly the same. The people around you are still the same people that were there a month ago. There's another set of elections in two years, and I can almost guarantee you the exact same issues that were talked about in this election will be on the table then as well. Let's just all calm down and look at things the way they are. We've got problems to solve, big and small, and the hyperbolic reactions don't help get things done, they just set up impossible expectations and perpetuate the aura of partisan fear that is destroying politics in this country.

And "newscasters," you aren't helping anyone. Seriously. I get that you have to get ratings by sensationalizing everything, but would it kill you to do some actual fact checking rather than having endless talking heads? They aren't helping anything either.

And for all my readers who want some accurate and even handed reporting, keep your eyes open. You can find honesty and intelligent analysis in the strangest of places.

Plasma Rockets, Magnetic Shields, Fuel Cells, Electric Cars, and Turning Garbage into Electricity

The first stage of a magnetoplasma rocket has passed a full power test. This is a step along the way to developing a rocket that can bridge the efficiency vs. thrust gap that exists between very efficient but low thrust ion rockets and high thrust, low efficiency chemical rockets. Rockets of this type could potentially reduce transit time for future Mars missions.

So we may soon be able to travel between worlds faster, but there is more to space travel than just distance. Radiation from solar flares and other sources can be very bad news for astronauts if they are unprotected. Carrying large amounts of metal (or even water) as shielding imposes a big weight penalty on spaceships. Cue the potential development of the very Star Trek sounding magnetic shields. The idea is to use a magnetic field to protect space craft the same way the Earth's magnetic field protects us. There are weight, size, and power consumption issues to work out, but there always are when you talk about space travel.

Speaking of power concerns, Toshiba has stated they will be delivering a commercial product powered by fuel cells by the end of March. Speculation says it's a cell phone. Should that be accurate, I will be very interested to see what people think about a cell phone powered by methanol. Given the continuing (so far unfounded) fears of electromagnetic radiation from phones, I can't imagine making their batteries flammable will go over well with everybody.

ArsTechnica reviews the Chevy's go at a plug-in electric car, the Volt. I don't really have an opinion on it, but it's nice to see them trying. (Well, I do wonder who in their right mind decided the interior console needed to be white, but that's hardly a comment on the engineering of the thing.) Hopefully development will survive the current financial situation.

Finally, up in New Jersey, they are starting to use landfills as a source of electricity. Methane released by decomposing waste is captured and used to generate power. It's not what I would call a final solution, but it is an elegant way of mitigating a couple of problems at the same time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quick Friday Updates; Like Twitter, but without the word limit

As much time as I've spent over the past two weeks sitting and waiting for things to finish running, you people should be deeply happy I don't post things while at work. There's no telling what would have ended up here.

I'm taking a drawing class, so you should also be happy I don't have a scanner. I might have posted the upside down horse drawing just for the sheer random factor. (Though the technique was a really nifty way of focusing on how to draw lines.)

I'm digging the laptop lifestyle, but large Dell laptops aren't made to actually be held in your lap.

The Internet is awesome because it reminds me of all the stuff there is out there to learn and do and see. It's annoying because I don't actually have the time to learn or the energy to do most of that stuff.

Speaking of awesome, if the official Lego sets resulted in creations like these, I would have a house full of 'em. This link goes out especially to my former roommates.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Watching the Watchers: Pre-election Issue

Though I've been writing mostly in the category of distractions recently, it would take more than a busy schedule to keep me from noticing that there is an election in two days. Perhaps you too have heard something about it on TV. Or the radio. Or the papers. Or the Internet. Or in casual conversation. Personally, I'm hoping that it's the record turnout year folks seem to think it will be. I'm not willing to predict the outcome, though I know where I'd place my bets if I had to. I am willing to predict widespread accusations of voting irregularity. Of course, it's easy to predict something that's already happening.

I've also noted that while the price of gas has gone down and the local shortages appear to be over, the oil companies are once again posting record profits on the backs of the high prices. I can't help but think that particular issue will not be going away no matter the outcome of the election. The noise around the banking industry is covering the usual cries of outrage. Of course, whether the outrage is justified may or may not be factoring into your vote.

Stay tuned folks, this is a big one, possibly a historic one. If you haven't already voted, you've still got a day to study up on the candidates for the various races. I'm waiting for Election Day to cast my vote, and something tells me I'm going to be late for work on Tuesday.