Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quote of the Moment

"Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel... luckily."
--U2, "City of Blinding Lights"

Rambling About Academ's Fury

Author Jim Butcher is most widely know for his contemporary fantasy series The Dresden Files, but he also writes a more traditional fantasy series, The Codex Alera, of which Academ's Fury is the second book. It is set in a world where nature spirits are harnessed by humans to produce magic. The main protagonist is a boy who can't call on any of these spirits and so must rely on his merely human wits and skill in a world where everyone else can perform astounding feats. Unlike the Dresden books, which stay with a single viewpoint character throughout, Academ's Fury, like its predecessor The Furies of Calderon, follows three characters through the disparate threads of the plot. And with all that blah blah explanation out of the way, I can get to my impressions.

Bottom line, Academ's Fury is an action book. All of the main characters were introduced in the first book of the series, as was the majority of the world building, which leaves this one free to get straight into the plot. Political maneuverings and subterfuge break up the sword and magic slinging scenes, but only during the buildup phase. When things get rolling, readers are treated to a pair of high stakes, high fantasy battles that carry through to the book's climax. If you are looking for deep, subtle characterizations and a fully developed world with its own sweep of history and legend, this probably isn't going to satisfy you. The characters, history, and legends here exist mainly to serve the plot. However, if you like a fast paced, fun fantasy, then you wouldn't go wrong giving Academ's Fury a try. Just remember to read the first book of the series before this one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Necessary Safety Routine to Include in Your Future Programs

while (1) if (1 != 1) printf("cosmic ray detected\n");
This little amusement comes via reddit. The tongue in cheek comments about the program are quite amusing in their own right. Unless of course you aren't a programmer, in which case, thank you for reading this far anyway.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Technology, From Grandiose to Simply Cool

Slashdot provides a host of links for anyone interested in the idea of creating giant starships propelled by fusion bombs. The propulsion system is a sci-fi catch all with excessively high energy proton beams igniting fusion explosions to produce clouds of plasma and capture their momentum via electromagnetic principles. It's fun because the science is real. Don't hold your breath for someone to make one though.

If you want real space accomplishments, then the ESA's soon-to-be-launched Herschel space telescope should be more to your liking. Its 3.5 meter mirror will surpass Hubble's 2.4 meter primary mirror to become the largest in space. While Hubble operates in visible wavelengths, Herschel will be gathering far infrared light, which is not scattered by space dust which can limit Hubble's view.

Finally, we come back to Earth for a bit of home brew technology in development. Some folks over at TechCrunch are attempting to develop an inexpensive touchscreen tablet for use web surfing. Their $300 current price point is too high (in my opinion), especially with the popularity of small notebook computers (a.k.a. netbooks) surging at exactly that entry price, but it's still an interesting concept.

Watching the Watchers: It's All About Money Edition

My home state of North Carolina is considering applying the sales tax to downloadable files. Currently the sales tax only applies to physical items. Analysis indicates this would allow the state and local governments to extract twelve million more dollars from the taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the federal government, in a move guaranteed to give conservative talk radio a subject for years, placed a half million dollar limit on the compensation of executives at financial companies who receive taxpayer money. Government oversight didn't stop the financial mess, and there is no evidence that more will prevent it. At the same time, with top executive compensation set by boards made up of people who are themselves top executives, the industry has clearly demonstrated they have no interest in regulating themselves. So where does the solution lie?

Could that solution be the massive stimulus bill that's on it's way to be signed by President Obama? Read it yourself and see. Warning: legislative language may cause excessive drowsiness and fits of anger; don't attempt to operate heavy machinery while reading the stimulus bill.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Quote of the Moment

Rule 35: That which does not kill me has made a tactical error.
--Howard Tayler

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Better Bulbs, Cleaner Nuclear, and Alternate Energy Galore

Last summer, I wrote a piece that showed the difference in using incandescent light bulbs and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in my house. The power savings are real, but CFLs have major disadvantages, chief among them their mercury content. Now scientists in the UK have discovered a method that might make the manufacture of light emitting diodes (LEDs) inexpensive enough to compete with CFLs. LED lights come on instantly, contain no mercury, and last ten times longer than CLFs (over 100 times longer than incandescent bulbs). Bring 'em on, please.

The debate over disposal of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear fission power plants has gone on for decades here in the U.S., and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down. While the overall greenness of nuclear fusion is questionable when compared to other alternatives, having a method of disposing the waste products would go a long way toward giving us more options in its use. Physicists at the University of Texas at Austin are working to make that dream reality, using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor to destroy radioactive waste, and generate power while doing it. It's not the pure fusion reactor that would give us truly green nuclear power, but eliminating 99% of heavy nuclear waste is a really big step in the right direction.

Seeing creative solutions emerge is a big reason I enjoy following green tech as much as I do. For example, in Scotland, plans are in place to build a data center powered entirely by tidal energy. But that's nothing compared to a group of distilleries partnering with a power company to create a biomass power plant fueled entirely by the byproducts of whisky manufacture. Estimates say the plant will produce enough power for the distillery and around 9000 homes.

And finally, multiple sources reported on figures from the Global Wind Energy Council showing the U.S. becoming the world's leading producer of wind power by expanding its generation by 50% in 2008. The report also notes China's explosive growth in wind power and the continued expansion of solar production in the U.S. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the low price of oil and capital-starved economy are predicted to have a negative impact on the growth of alternative power this year.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Quote of the Moment

"All I know for sure is I'm trying..."
--Within Temptation, "Stand My Ground"