Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Supercapacitor News!

Well now, it has been quite a while since I last saw anything of note on the topic of supercapacitors, but it looks like I get a year end gift on the topic. Scientists experimenting with nitrogen doped carbon materials have demonstrated devices with power storage in the same class as lead-acid batteries. Still considerably lower than lithium-ion batteries, but good progress.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mistakes Were Made, Are We Learning Yet?

Whatever your opinion about the subject, you must admit there has been a bunch of media coverage of gun violence and incidents of police killing people this past year. For instance, details from the over-a-year-long investigation into the death of a boy in Chicago at the hands of the police are tragic.
Although the caller specified to the dispatcher that the person in question was possibly a child playing with a toy, that information was not relayed to the officers and the officers responded to the call as an “active shooter” situation, authorities said. 
...
 the toy gun appeared identical to a real weapon, that the 12-year-old looked much older than he was, and that both officers behaved in ways consistent with the Cleveland police’s policies for dealing with an “active shooter” situation. 
... 
it is likely that Tamir — whose size made him look much older and who had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day — either intended to hand it to the officers or to show them it wasn’t a real gun...

Mistakes were obviously made by both sides in this story. The court has determined that the police responded reasonably given the circumstances. And yet... We have created an environment in this country where the default assumption by the police must be one of being in danger. Something has caused this. Probably many somethings. Before anything else can be tackled, we must identify the true root causes of this environment. Words like "gun culture", "police militarization", "war on drugs", and so on may provide clues, or they may be red herrings. I wish I knew how to look into this to pull out some real data, but I'm afraid it's not my field. Instead, I have to add it to my growing list of things where rhetorical extremism chokes off any real discussion.

Like so many issues America faces today, we need reasonable people to work together to identify and enact proper changes, whatever they may be. But reasonable people seem to get shouted out of politics these days. Then again, maybe the reasonable people just don't make the news.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bookworming: 2015 Summary

With a total of merely eleven, I managed to read even fewer things this year than last. And of those, just over half were new to me.

My rating scale:
* I didn't care for it.
** Meh
*** Good for those who like that sort of thing.
**** Just plain good, likely to be read again some time.
***** Destined to be a personal favorite, likely to be read over and over again.

*****
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

****
Mistborn: The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson
The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson
The Hero of Ages (Mistborn #3), Brandon Sanderson
Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew

***
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Guilty Pleasures, Laurel K. Hamilton
Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn

**
Uwharrie, Eugene Pfaff, Michael Causey

*
Art Before Breakfast, Danny Gregory
In the Dust of This Planet, Eugene Thacker

Bookworming: Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn, ***
I am not particularly interested in novels which expand series from other media. Nevertheless, they can be hard to resist for properties one is invested in. I have occasionally wandered down that road over the years for Robotech, Babylon 5, Star Trek, and, as in this case, Star Wars. As one might expect, it has been a very, very mixed bag. Which brings me to the subject of today's review.

Long before "The Force Awakens" there was another what-happened-next Star Wars story. This one started five years after the events of "Return of the Jedi", bringing back the major characters and introducing new ones into the mix. Personally, I think the novel does an excellent job of evoking the trappings of the Star Wars universe without being bound entirely by the differences in storytelling between movies and books. However, the differences do show up. This is a 400 page novel, not a two hour movie, and even though there a several set-piece action scenes, the pacing is quite a bit more languid than one might associate with Star Wars. And as you would expect, there is no introduction to the old characters or their universe. It is also the first in a trilogy, and the usual tropes apply. Still, this is widely hailed as one of the best Star Wars novels, and if that is what you are after, and if you don't mind that it now lives outside the cannon, then give it a go.