Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Government, the People, the Businesses

Thanks to the political climate of the previous administration, government secrets have been much talked about. ArsTechnica reports on a NSA surveillance program so secret that it became virtually unusable. I won't say any more about this. (They are probably watching...)

Science issues also remain perpetually in the news, and a new Pew study sheds some light on why. It seems the public largely admires and trusts scientists, but their views on the conclusions of the scientific community differ. There is also a huge political divide. Again, thanks to the previous administration, this isn't exactly a surprise.

I have long believed that the stock market optimizes for the wrong variable (quarterly profit growth) with only secondary regard for quality or customer satisfaction. Software consultant and author Bruce Eckel writes about what it might be like if a business really, truly focused on its employees. I think he's making a mistake by leaving the customer out of the equation, but thinking differently about business would certainly seem to be a good idea in a steep recession time like this.

It would be easy to look at these three isolated stories, declare the Bush administration an Epic Fail, and move on. Sadly, I see a bigger pattern at work. What does one do when education, government, and industry all show signs of failure at the same time? Well, how about you folks with kids teach 'em how to learn, teach 'em compassion, teach 'em ethics, and give 'em a hug every night before bed. They're going to have a mess to deal with if we don't work it out. No pressure.

Let There Be (More Efficient) Light! Please.

Light bulbs are an obvious place for power savings that everyone can take advantage of. The best cost/value currently comes from compact fluorescent lights, but they have a couple of huge drawbacks. They don't emit a full spectrum of light the way an old fashioned incandescent bulb does, and they contain hazardous mercury vapor. Happily, other avenues are still being pursued including something that improves the efficiency of incandescent bulbs by thirty percent and last three times longer. Scientists are still working on my pick for eventual winner, light emitting diode technology (such as this breakthrough that can improve OLED efficiency by seventy five percent). Of course, we live in a capitalistic society and as the New York Times noted last year, how do you sustain a business on a product that lasts as much as a hundred times as long as current bulbs?

One Person's Solar Power Example, A Year On

I've linked a couple of times before to Loyd Case's personal experiment with solar power. Now his final story is up analyzing his year with solar power generation. A practical application shows that solar power for a single home isn't quite cost competitive yet, but it can really make a difference on a power bill. I wonder what the system would look like for folks that use a more normal level of power than Mr. Case's family.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

About Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Basically, there are two types of people who could potentially see this post, those who are already watching the Harry Potter movies, and those who aren't. The first group knows the almost miraculous quality the movies have sustained, meshing a group of unknown, untested child actors with an all star cast of supporting actors from the generations that preceded them and having those children manage to grow in their craft as well as their stature before our eyes. Making one good movie is hard enough, making six that manage to not only stand up to one of the most beloved series of books ever, but actually compliment them is frankly astonishing. The Half Blood Prince manages to do something its predecessor Order of the Phoenix didn't quite do, compress it's giant book worth of source material into a coherent whole that didn't feel rushed or make you miss the things which were cut. Standouts include Alan Rickman's once again note perfect portrayal of Prof. Snape, a scene stealing Helena Bonham Carter, and Bonnie Wright's Jenny Weasley stepping out of the periphery in a big way.

By the time you read this, the movie will have already set all sorts of box office records. And really, those already involved in the series don't need any further encouragement. If by chance, you are in the group that hasn't started watching the movies, this is one time where following the crowd will net you some seriously good entertainment.

Headline Hunting, Sort Of

Maybe it's because I watched an old Star Trek episode called "Space Seed" over the weekend that the headline "Emphatic Khan claims world title" didn't make me think of boxing. Then again, I could just be a huge nerd, because to me, the phrase 'emphatic Khan' can only conjure up one image:


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Future Shock, Today

A few days ago, I attempted to order a couple pizzas over the phone as I have done dozens of times before. Instead of the usual human voice, I was greeted by an automated system. This prompted me to hang up. If I'm not going to talk to a human, if I'm going to be forced to interact with a computer, I might as well do it using a better interface than the phone. A quick web form later, and the pizzas were on their way.

Reports show sales down for stand-alone GPS devices because they are being displaced by "smart phones" with essentially the same capabilities. Fewer and fewer people are wearing a wristwatch because they use their cell phones like a pocket watch. Anecdotal evidence would indicate the phone part is the worst feature of the iPhone.

I have gadget lust for e-book readers, because currently, I have to clean off my bookshelves to make room for new reading material. Having books stored electronically solves the space problem (and a weight problem next time I move), and the readers wouldn't cause eye strain the way using a laptop to read does. But they also put my beloved book stores on the endangered list.

Currently, the iPhone and e-book readers are well outside my budget constraints, but they are also very young technologies (essentially production version 2 for both). We are less than six months from the year 2010, and you know what? If you stop and think, it kinda shows.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Space Station Flyovers

Well, I just ran across this. The International Space Station is going to be flying over the US quite a bit this week. If you've got kids who would like to see the largest spaceship ever built with their own eyes (or binoculars or a telescope) take a look here for spotting info. Hey, maybe you would even get a kick out of it yourself.

There Is No News This Week

This week has been a vacation week for me. There will be no substantive post. Instead I give you this, which you may prefer in the long run...