Technology Section

Sunday, December 19, 2010 - 12:46pm

I've seen more battalions of climate deniers lately than I care to even acknowledge. They engage in a game of dangerous anti-intellectualism and prefer to dwell in a place of self-enforced ignorance, where they receive as well as cultivate ongoing support for their fallacies.

This piece isn't to waste time on them, or their highly funded interest in climate denial that special interests funnel a steady flow of money into.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance. ~Saul Bellow

Let them be ignorant, and reduced to the blather of background noise. This piece is simply a short inquiry for those who dwell in reality, surrounded by facts and thoughtful pursuits.

Here's the observation (in the form of an excerpt) and the question -- from here:


According to NASA (circa May 2004), there's a potential sometime over the next few decades for melting sea ice to trigger colder weather in Europe and North America.  This isn't the first time we've heard about the effect -- our own Darksyde (Science Friday: Mystery of the Icebox Killer, Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 07:45:05 AM EST) wrote about the possibility a year later, and we've seen a few references to many unexpected changes -- increases -- in the rate of Arctic ice melt not only in 2005 but also in 2007, 2008, 2009 (and here) and 2010 (and here.

So, what's the likelihood now of any effect on the ocean conveyor?

Granted, the past impacts happened when a massive flood of cold fresh water rushed into it -- this time, it's not such an all-at-once scenario.  But -- will the increase impact the conveyor?  Destabilize or shift it?  Alter it's speed, course or charming sense of humor?



Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - 11:13am

Here's a small video from NASA regarding what's up for October 2010. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010 - 2:15pm

Originally posted 2010-09-05 13:40:33 -0400. Bumped and promoted. -- GH

It is probably no secret that I love Google. :)  In fact just this past week, GreyHawk and I were trying to decide on a name for my Google affliction (addiction?). 

On the 30th of August Mashable announced on Facebook that Priority Inbox was being rolled out. This was almost as exciting as the "Call Phone" feature that was rolled out only a few days before. Be still my heart ... how many new toys can a person play with?

So, each day thereafter, I waited (not so) patiently for the link to appear at the top of my gMail.

And it finally did.  Is it as cool as I was hoping? Yup. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010 - 1:39am

We've been waiting for it ... making phone calls from your gmail.  Google announced its release today:

If you have a Google Voice phone number, calls made from Gmail will display this number as the outbound caller ID. And if you decide to, you can receive calls made to this number right inside Gmail (see instructions).

We’re rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next few days, so you’ll be ready to get started once “Call Phones” shows up in your chat list (you will need to install the voice and video plug-in if you haven’t already). If you’re using Google Apps for your school or business, then you won’t see it quite yet. We’re working on making this available more broadly - so stay tuned!

Google Voice is loaded with features, including Conference Calling.  Videos on making the most of Google Voice can be found here.

So, yes, Google I forgive you. smiley

Connecticut Man1
Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 10:06pm

Google? You'd expect this from Verizon but from Google?

Google and Verizon in Talks on Selling Internet Priority

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

What do these ding dongs not understand about Net Neutrality?

No... We will not have tiered levels of access from and for private corporations already lucky enough to use the internet to sell their stuff or to be allowed the privilege of selling access to something that would not have existed were it not for the government inventing and building it in the first place.

Sunday, August 1, 2010 - 7:04am


Ever heard of the Fermi Paradox? Essentially, it's this:

If there are intelligent civilisations elsewhere in the Universe with technologies that far surpass our own, why do we see no sign of them?

The article The Fermi Paradox, Phase Changes and Intergalactic Colonisation, posted June 26 online at the Technology Review, two gentlement from the National Technical University of Ukraine have come up with a new take that's yielding some interesting insights:

Their approach is to imagine that civilisations form at a certain rate, grow to fill a certain volume of space and then collapse and die. They even go as far as to suggest that civilisations have a characteristic life time, which limits how big they can become.

In certain circumstances, however, when civilisations are close enough together in time and space, they can come into contact and when this happens the cross-fertilisation of ideas and cultures allows them both to flourish in a way that increases their combined lifespan.

What's this mean? Well,

The result gives a new insight into the Fermi Paradox. Bezsudnov and Snarskii say that for certain values of these parameters, the universe undergoes a phase change from one in which civilisations tend not to meet and spread into one in which the entire universe tends to become civilised as different groups meet and spread.


Of course, this doesn't resolve the question definitively, but certainly provides some interesting additional sparks that could catch and burn brightly in a fertile imagination.

What do ~you~ think -- is there any intelligent life in the universe? (Outside of Earth, that is -- effectively avoiding whether or not you'd qualify humanity itself as "intelligent.")


Connecticut Man1
Monday, July 26, 2010 - 11:15pm

A couple of surprises from the U.S. Copyright Office:

It’s no longer illegal under the DMCA to jailbreak your iPhone or bypass a DVD’s CSS in order to obtain fair use footage for educational purposes or criticism. These are the new rules that were handed down moments ago by the U.S. Copyright Office. This is really big. Like, really big.

The office looks at copyright law every three years in order to make revisions or exemptions. The six “classes” now exempt from prosecution under the DMCA

H/T Karoli and some appropriate Thin Lizzy:

An AC/DC Jail Break below the fold...

Thursday, July 15, 2010 - 11:39pm

I’d put my money on solar energy. What a source of power!
I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
I wish I had more years left.

Thomas Alva Edison
February 11, 1847 - October 18, 1931 (aged 84)

That second part, the bolded comment got me thinking that Edison, recognizing the potential of the sun to meet our energy needs and knowing that fossil fuels were a finite resource, towards the end of his life wanted very much to be around to see this remarkable resource harnessed and developed into something sustainable.

The world's economic growth in the past 150 years has been built on our knowledge of how to extract and harness yesterday's stored sunshine in the form of fossil fuels. The oil barons of the second half of the 1800s, making their fortunes by extracting these resources, initially for lighting people's homes. Extending daylight for many people both allowing them to live better lives, and for industry and commercial enterprises to operate longer.

The largest fortune the world has ever seen was created by selling refined lamp oil under the manufactured name “kerosene” and John D Rockefeller became the world’s richest man by lighting the oil lamps of the world.

but he was also the biggest philanthropist America has ever seen.
Rockefeller - “Let the poor man have his cheap light”

He didn’t want to kill people. He had standards.

Standard Oil = SO (Esso) now known as.... Exxon.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Rockefeller's stated goal to bring about an affordable improvement in people's every day lives, ought to be recognized as commendable, irrespective of business practices which accompanied this.
His generosity which helped bring about progress through science and education using the fortune he had made, additionally so.

Rockefeller spent the last 40 years of his life in retirement. His fortune was mainly used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy with foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research. - Source

From the 1880s on Thomas Edison, Samuel Insull and George Westinghouse were instrumental in building on that premise, of bringing light through electricity into people's homes in a cost effective way.

Thomas Edison - "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."
- Source

Edison originated the concept and implementation of electric-power generation and distribution to homes, businesses, and factories – a crucial development in the modern industrialized world.
- Source

It was on September 4, 1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station's electrical power distribution system
- Source

Electricity, unlike kerosene and other oils which were previously burned for lighting, was generated outside the home, thus displacing where combustion was occurring, meaning less pollution and cleaner air in people's homes.
However, it also challenged the business model of the oil industry.

Electricity would have put Rockefeller and Standard Oil out of business, since lighting was their main business too, but then the automobile came along and saved the oil companies.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

As one business model for the oil barons was displaced, another sprang up. And although initially the generation of power was through the use of oil based products, these quickly became expensive as demand shifted elsewhere and another way of generating power cost effectively was needed. The answer at that time lay in coal, a plentiful resource, yet not as versatile as a liquid fuel, where a process was developed to generate electricity by yet another American based firm, GE.

As Insull integrated the demands of disparate customers and networked his expanding empire with high voltage transmission lines, he convinced General Electric to build new generating technologies that would replace the size limited, gasoline powered, piston driven engines. In October 1903, General Electric and Chicago Edison opened the Fisk Street Turbine Station, which was powered from water boiled by burning coal and provided a then remarkable 5MW of electricity.

From Enron to Edison, Richard Munson

America played critical roles in starting the industrial revolution which relied on fossil fuel for power generation. Through development of educational institutions which operated at the cutting edge of technology, new design engineering, manufacturing and construction methods, and of course utilizing the power of the US government through regulation to overcome political barricades to further development, to ensure that electricity could reach as many people as possible.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the first program to train electrical engineers in 1890
Charles Stone and Edwin Webster, two years after graduating from MIT, started a business to design and build power plants for utilities unwilling to assume the construction headaches.
President Woodrow Wilson during WWI created a War Industries Board that ordered private utilities to interconnect with each other in order to use electricity more efficiently.

From Enron to Edison, Richard Munson

Of course fossil fuels are a depletable resource and we are right now living through a time when there is real evidence that this dependency is unsustainable - why else destroy magnificent mountain ranges, create enormous amounts of toxic waste with tar sands and risk entire coast lines with deep water drilling? Competition with emerging markets for resources from India and China with 4 - 5 times the US population each, the rapid depletion of easy and cheap to extract oil as well as the environmental consequences of releasing millions of years of stored carbon into the atmosphere, makes one wonder what we should be doing to prepare for these multiple approaching crisis. Crisis which mean the end of cheap energy.

Arthur says “For the last few centuries since the industrial revolution, we’ve been living on our capital, on the energy stored up in coal and oil from sunlight hundreds of millions of years ago. We’ve been eating up these reserves at a colossal rate. In the near future, only a few decades, the oil and gas and coal will all be gone. That means we’ll have to go back to the original source, the sun.”

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

From July 13-15, for the past 3 days there has been a major exhibition and conference in San Francisco's Moscone Center called Intersolar North America.

Unlike the rapid development and adoption of kerosene and then electricity for lighting which drove the coal and oil industries expansion, photovoltaics have taken a little more time to gain a major foothold in energy markets. Despite being developed to a commercial product in 1954 by Bell Labs, again with America leading the way with some level of government support, because it had the potential to disrupt the existing energy (fossil fuel) industry business model, solar power has struggled to make the sort of rapid headway which both oil and coal enjoyed.

One of the non-profit groups at Intersolar who have adopted the purpose of both Edison and Rockefeller and many of the early American energy entrepreneurs, of bringing light to the world's poor, is an organization called Solar Electric Light Fund or SELF.
Earlier this year, as you can tell from some of the blockquotes above, I read a book called Chasing the Sun by Neville Williams, the founder of SELF.

What I really like about the model which SELF operate under is the mutual obligation side of providing a solar system. Where, rather than simply taking aid, the people in developing areas which have no electrical grid access, are able to get a solar lighting system on a micro-credit finance arrangement.

the basic modus operandi of our approach was to get people to pay for the systems. We didn’t believe in giving them away.

The need, demand from people who have no access to modern forms of energy, including electricity, is enormous. And as per the current directors comments in the video below, it costs $20,000 per mile to install transmission lines, which is far too expensive for rural electrification in many places. But without access to modern forms of energy, many of these people are unable to improve their lives.

subsistence levels of electricity for the two billion people of the world who have no electricity

I was able to enter this world, their world, the world in which half of humanity lives. It is a world of small farms, of simple, small houses with thatch or tile roofs; and of families usually too large to fit in the usual four rooms. Often these rooms have no furniture and people sleep on floor mats.

There are 700 million of them in India, 800 million in China, maybe 400 million in Africa, at least 200 million in Latin America, and another 300 million in the Middle East, Southeast, Western Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia...
And half the four billion have no electricity

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Robert Freling, Exec. Dir. Solar Electric Light Fund at Intersolar on Solar World's contribution to developing countries community solar, Haiti

Solar Electric Light Fund, by developing a model which relies on repayment for these energy systems, has been able to establish many sustainable business enterprises. Both empowering those who receive the solar systems for lighting, water pumping, hospitals and schools, as well as unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit in those who are involved in the sales, installation and maintenance of these solar systems. Their positive influence has touched the lives of people in many areas.
Benin, Burundi, Haiti, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Bhutan, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Navajo Nation, Nepal, Nigeria, New Orleans, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.

The reward in terms of eternal appreciation can be found throughout the story of SELF.

Repayment aided through savings on energy bills.

eagerly showed me his sheaf of electrical bills, noting how they had decreased as he relied on the solar lights in lieu of grid power. What he saved on his utility bills, he used to pay back the bank loans.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

People naming their children after solar power.

In honor of our good fortune, I decided to name my child Guang Dian. Guang Dian means photovoltaics in Chinese.
Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

And of course a challenge which we all should be asking ourselves?

If the poorer people of the world can have a “solar solution”, why can’t people in North America?

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

So yesterday it was great to see Larry Hagman, JR Ewing of Dallas fame, showing how he has taken up the challenge to become involved not just with SELF, but also living with solar power in his own home. An oil man who has seen the light and enormous potential for solar power to transform people's lives and fortunes is something we need to see more of.

Transcript and interview at Intersolar with Larry Hagman

So People know you from a lot of television shows, but most of all they know you as oil baron, JR Ewing, so what is your personal link to solar energy?

Well, I have probably the largest solar array for any residential home in America right now, perhaps the world. It’s quite large and I installed it years ago when a tree fell on a power line in Ohio, and shorted out most of the Eastern Coast and part of Canada.
It was like that for four days. It was all dark.
If it had gone on longer, say 10 days or something, a lot of people would have died.
So I thought well, if the infrastructure was so delicate that a tree falling on a power line in Ohio would short circuit the whole or half the United States, I better do something about my little farm.
And so I investigated solar power and wind power and so forth, and decided that solar power would be my way of doing things. Because wind power has a lot of moving parts and a lot of maintenance on it, but once you put in solar power, it just sits there for maybe thirty or forty years providing electricity so that’s the direction I went in, and I’m very glad I did.

To me that sounds like the American way, so you’re producing your own energy...

Well if you wait for the government to get around to making concessions, giving you incentives, you’ll never do anything, so I decided to do it myself. And now the government in California is offering a way of getting paid back for that. The electric company at that time, paid me out of $750,000, $320,000 to put this in. So it reduced my investment.
So I was using a lot of electricity but I was also making more than I would use, so every year I would give back $10,000. Now they have to let me keep that, which I think is wonderful.
We’ve got to find another way of producing energy. Coal is destructive to the atmosphere, it’s going to drown us in CO2. They’ve got to come up with something. Oil is depleting at such a quick rate that we wont have any in 15 years that we can afford.

So would JR today still invest in oil?

Probably, but he would invest in all sorts of energy. Energy we have to have, we’re gluttons for that. Solar is certainly the easiest. I decided on solar rather than wind power because of the moving parts in wind power. It has to be repaired, a lot of maintenance on it. And once you’ve got your solar panels up they just sit there for thirty or forty years and they supply you with enough energy to run tons of things, certainly my house.
Germany only gets about a third or maybe 2/3rds of the sunlight we have in California, and it’s still successful, still works there.

So you’re engaged in the Solar Electric Light Fund, tell us something about that.

My lawyer in Dallas is a guy named Richard Freling and he has a son who has a non-profit organization called Solar Electric Light Fund and we go around the world (I sit on the board) electrifying villages all over the place.

We have one in Brazil, it has a school and they have a direct uplink to satellites.
Schools that don’t have books have the internet, which means they can learn anything.
And we have one in South Africa,

And I think there’s one going in Malawi. We have many Solar electric Light Fund organizations that bring electricity so you can cool medicines.

So what about Haiti, when you heard about the earthquake in Haiti, what was your first reaction?

Haiti’s had this dreadful earth quake, it decimated the country, killed 250-300 thousand people. Very, very poor country. And I’ve been involved with Solar Electric Light Fund, trying to procure solar panels, which of course Solar World has given us to keep the clinics there. They have a terrible problem with Tuberculosis and AIDS there, almost pandemic, and this will help them keep their medicines cold and also allow them to work after the sunlight. And they can have battery back up and solar panels, because they’ve been using diesel to electrify their villages. The price of diesel goes up and down, it’s very expensive there. So solar will be a God send to all the clinics, there, I think you have 10 clinics there.

I think the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m amazed that it hadn’t happened before. I mean it’s really amazing with all the oil wells down there it’s never happened, and at this depth it’s very difficult to contain. I don’t know if they’re ever going to do it. I hope they do, I don’t know maybe it just runs out after a while, but that could be years.

I think it will happen more and more and at that depth it’s very hard to contain.

But you’ve got to understand the position of the oil industry. The energy industry in America, is ruled by the oil industry, therefore our congressmen, our senators, all our politicians take tremendous donations.

I think if people had the wherewithal and the industry to control their own intake and output of electricity, life would be a lot simpler for everyone

If there was a law which said every home should and must have solar energy, it would make a lot of difference and if they got incentives from the government to achieve that, it would happen quickly.

It’s been fun, and I’m sure we’re going to change the world.

The challenge then falls to those world leaders to show the way, to put solar on their own roofs. For it shouldn't be just up to the world's poor to take on these cleaner, more sustainable technologies.

The Put Solar On It Challenge

Dear World Leaders,
The time has come for action on the climate crisis.

On 10/10/10, thousands of communities will join together to celebrate climate solutions. All over the world, we’ll be putting up solar panels, installing wind turbines, digging community gardens, and more.

Will you join us? Install solar panels on your roof, and then enact legislation to make it possible for everyone in your country to join you in the clean energy future. We need you to act symbolically—and then we need you to act for real.

Isn't this what America should be about, what it was in the past? - Bringing energy innovation to life, creating jobs and wealth and then exporting it internationally? Bringing cheap energy to the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living of people everywhere.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - 12:46pm

NASA joins the ranks of RPGs with Moonbase Alpha ... just released today.

NASA's Moonbase Alpha game launches today for the PC, available from Steam. Developed by Virtual Heroes' Army Game Studio (America's Army game franchise) and NASA, Moonbase Alpha puts players in the moon boots of a NASA astronaut. The game takes place in 2025, when extended stays on the Moon are possible. While out on a Rover, the player witnesses a meteorite collision near the moonbase. With the outpost suffering damage from the impact, it is the player's task to head back to the moonbase and make the critical repairs necessary to restore power and oxygen to fellow astronauts in peril. 

Visit the NASA page here

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - 2:50am

Question for folks, particularly science-types:

The pressure from the Deepwater Horizon well, which forced the blowout, and the steady stream of escaping that pressure solely from the weight of the many atmospheres of water above it? ...or could some of it be from internal pressures?

Regardless, does anyone know whether releasing all that pressure will lead to settling of the surrounding crust/mantle, leading to possible shifts in pressure in plates and affecting/effecting earthquakes?

Note the following Google Search for potentially relevant articles on pressure related to quakes -- I didn't pull any in particular for direct reference because I don't know that any actually directly apply, but several seem to touch on the concept:

I'd be interested in the feedback from any geologists, of course, but everyone's welcome to chime in.

And that's it -- there's nothing below the fold. Enjoy!