Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bookworming: Robin Hood

The Adventures of Robin Hood & His Merry Outlaws, J. Walker McSpadden, ***
It can be interesting sometimes to go back and look at the legends. I had never actually read the real tales of Robin Hood before (or at least as real as they can get rendered into prose from the original verbal tradition). It is almost surprising how much of the tales have come down intact. Of course there is plenty that I had never seen as well. Most interestingly to me, the stories of Robin Hood clearly show many of the characteristics of the "pulp" stories I enjoy now, whether they be Howard's Conan or HBO's True Blood. Robin and his band are boisterous, enjoy their violent sports, carouse, and otherwise show all the base nature of humanity. Yet they remain indomitably honorable in the face of injustice and insane circumstance. Sounds like a great many characters now, doesn't it.

I'd like to say that says something about the constancy of humanity, but I doubt I have wide enough experience to prove anything. I will say that while James Joyce remains a right of passage for literary types (and no, I couldn't finish Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), it's Batman that keeps getting comics, movies, and TV shows. And the songs about Robin Hood are still being sung.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Watching the Watchers: Global Warming

Global warming remains an issue that I don't much like to touch on because of how overly political it has become. At this point, the scientific consensus seems pretty well dominantly on the side of "it is happening", and that is pretty well good enough for me. It also changes nothing at all about industry and government. Still, every once in a while an article comes along that gets my attention. For instance this one from Rolling Stone. Yes, it is heavily political, hitting both the Obama administration and especially the fossil fuel industry hard. That isn't what caught my eye about it. Running numbers of the sort presented in the article shows what many have long suspected. Climate change is no longer something that can be prevented. The proverbial die has already been cast. So the question becomes more practical: what will  the consequences be? The scientific consensus appears to same something to that as well: everything so far has been worse than expected.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bookworming: When Christians Get It Wrong

When Christians Get It Wrong, Adam Hamilton, ***
My church small group has now read several of Hamilton's books together, and I seem to detect a running theme of attempting to put Christianity into context. In this case, he explores reasons young adults are removing themselves from the church. The topics range from the fairly obvious (the church's response to homosexuals, friction between science and religion) to the deeply theological (dealing with other religions, the nature of evil). Obviously, as a Christian, I believe these are all discussions that should be undertaken, and Hamilton provides a good starting point for having them. If nothing else, it can highlight the differences between thinking Christians regarding some very practical current topics.

By its nature, it lacks the strong narrative path of his Bible-stories-in-historical-context works. This works for a discussion group where people can come and go, but does mean I connected with it less than the others of his I have read. As a Methodist reading the work of a Methodist preacher, not much in the book runs very counter to the way of thinking I am used to, so there was also perhaps less mental processing needed on my part. (The huge exception being the question of why Bad Things happen, which is one of the hardest ones in all of theology.) I suspect the book may be more challenging for Christians of a more conservative bent than me.

More Power, Better

The universe runs on energy and time. I seem to have little of either these days. Happily, research into power generation and storage technology marches on unaffected by my whining.

Microbial fuel cells. I had no idea such things existed. Scientists at Ohio State University know all about them, and have made what appears to be a big boost in their ability to generate electricity from waste water. If their process proves out in the field, it could lead to waste water treatment plants actually producing a net positive amount of power. The same process can apparently be used with animal waste and even the waste produced when brewing beer.

Meanwhile over at UCLA, the boffins are working on transparent solar cells. This is more impressive than it may sound at first. After all, solar cells must contain the electrical components to gather the power, and the very act of absorbing light results in a visibility degradation. The transparent cells absorb their power from infrared light rather than visible, and the description of the electronics involved contains multiple uses of the prefix nano-.

Generating power is all well and good, but you have to be able to either do it continuously, or you have to store it somewhere. Supercapacitors remain excellent performers in their realms, but have far lower energy capacity for their weight than batteries. Stanford researchers are studying a new electrode material made from a polymer hydrogel that enables both cheaper manufacture and higher energy density.

Battery researchers are not standing still either. Another group at Stanford is working a new electrode material for Lithium-air batteries which they believe has the potential for an order of magnitude increase in storage capacity. That is the kind of thing that could transform a 45-mile range electric car into a 400-mile range or create a smart phone that could go for more than a week between charges.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brightshadow Memos: The Phantom Anomoly

The condition of the Turkish F-4 shot down over Syria fits the general pattern of the Triangle Effect on the surface. However, we do not believe this is the entire explanation. Though the discrepancies in reported and actual flight paths and the disappearance of the crew follows the pattern of a Triangle incident, there are neither the lingering electromagnetic distortions nor methane traces which are usually found in such cases. We have received permission to acquire samples of the superstructure and cockpit seats of the plane as well as one of the remaining articles of clothing from the crew. Those are on the way, marked for material and energy signature analysis. Naturally, getting copies of the surveillance is proving more difficult. At least one officer on site has hinted that an "equipment malfunction" may have made acquiring the tapes pointless. We are attempting to find out whether this "malfunction" happened in flight or after the crash.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Quote of the Moment

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.
—Vincent Van Gogh