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Capacitors on Steroids

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Gary Settles is a professor of mechanical engineering who studies gas dynamics. Here is a video where he uses both high speed photography and Schlieren photography to visualize shock waves, dogs breathing, and so on.

I read about the company EEStor some time ago. It’s one of those technological developments which sounds too good to be true but you hope it is. A capacitor stores charge directly, unlike a battery which uses chemistry to store energy. Unfortunately ordinary capacitors can’t store much and it leaks away quickly. An ultracapacitor is like a capacitor on steroids. They can not only hold a large amount of power but it leaks away slowly. One other difference between capacitors and batteries is capacitors can be charged quickly, and discharged very quickly as well. If EEstor’s technology pans out, it could mean the end of batteries as we know them. In this article EEStor claims;

This could translate into an electric vehicle capable of traveling up to 500 miles on a five minute charge, compared with current battery technology which offers an average 50-100 range on an overnight charge. As if that weren’t enough, the company claims they will be able to mass-produce the units at a fraction of the cost.

Strap-on helicopters don’t really exist but someone has designed one.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being stung over 100 times not once but twice, so the story; What is Causing Super-sized Yellow Jacket Nests? completely creeps me out.

Here is another cool optical illusion. It looks completely different if you add edges or remove them.

From this article it seems we in the U.S. pay more and get less than other countries when it comes to internet bandwidth.

Finally, here is a collection of photos that capture an instant in time.

Apocalypse Maybe

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

This article in the New York Times; Duck and Cover: It’s the New Survivalism made me think about the end of the world as we know it. I tend to think about those types of survival scenarios as the stuff of science fiction. However, on September 11th when I saw Hoosiers lining up at gas stations in some kind of irrational gasoline buying frenzy, it sent a chill down my spine.

I had a funny thought; one thing you could do to survive is to have a still and know how to run it. Alcohol is pretty useful stuff; you can drink it, start a fire with it, use it as fuel, or sterilize a wound. But the real point would be when you showed up at some stockade looking for protection, knowing how to make booze could get you in the door. Note: distilling spirits in the U.S. is illegal.

I enjoy watching Survivorman and Man vs Wild. This article about Man vs Wild being somewhat staged didn’t surprise me. It was pretty inconceivable Bear Grylls was starving while his film crew were enjoying their morning coffee. I still enjoy the show and wouldn’t have the nerve to do a lot of the things he does. I guess I like Surviorman slightly better because I enjoy Les Stroud’s style of film making. Both shows make me hungry and often for strange things I’ve never eaten. Watching those two guys gobble up bugs makes you wonder if people in this country are going hungry simply because of the social stigma attached to Entomophagy. Here and here are a couple of sites devoted to eating insects.

I have no doubt; we wouldn’t be prepared in an apocalyptic situation. However, for short term situations we might be more prepared than most. While buying a cabin and stocking it with years of food is certainly outside the economic capability of most Americans, being prepared for some type of short term emergency isn’t really expensive. We live in the Midwest and big snow or ice storms are a real possibility. Here are some of the reasons we are somewhat prepared.

We Camp

While a lot of camping gear such as a tent and backpack are useless unless you are traveling, certain gadgets do come in handy. We have a compact white gas cooking stove plus a propane one for van camping. Our water purifier failed on our last canoe trip. I realized it was just the pump part and MacGyvered a gravity feed system by fitting a number of tubes together and hanging a jug in a tree. Water purifiers are not that expensive, however unless you camp you may not feel like spending the money. Here are several ways to sterilize water.

Our power goes out a lot.

Usually it’s for less than an hour, but it has lasted an evening or the better part of a day. I have one of those compressor/battery/inverter things which will run a small TV for a while, or a laptop/router/modem. I mostly use it to fill my tires or jump the car. We have lots of LED flashlights. They have really gotten inexpensive and last summer when the lights went out I got mad at myself for not having enough to light the house. My main concern though is heat. We had an old kerosene heater but the wick shaft got bent. Last winter I kept looking at one at Lowes for $180 but by the time I got around to buying it, spring was on the way and they had marked it down to $60. I have our phone plugged into the battery backup for my computer, but we have one of those old style phones that don’t need power in the attic.

I shop at Costco.

That means I have at least a 6 months supply of toilet paper on average. Not exactly a survival necessity but the point is, we started shopping there to save money. Because a lot of the stuff they sell comes by the case, since we started shopping there we really have a lot more food around the house.

A lot of my interest in green homes isn’t so much apocalyptic preparation or even the ecological aspects. It has a lot to do with the fact that our economic situation has fluctuated wildly over the years. Unfortunately our retirement planning consisted of growing whatever business we were in at the time. Now that we are serious about investing, the economy is in yet another meltdown. I guess the alternative is to try to come up with a cheaper way of living. Most of these houses are rather strange looking and as the site mentions local building codes might be a problem.

On to a totally different subject, I got a kick out of this guy’s idea. He tied a disposable camera to a bench with a note that said;

Good afternoon,
I attached this camera to the bench so you could take pictures. Seriously. So have fun. I’ll be back later this evening to pick it up.
Love, Jay / The Plug

Here is his site.

I sometimes wonder if genetic engineering is going to save us or kill us all. It is fascinating reading about how sophisticated it has become. In this article they describe the creation of corn containing three different enzymes by splicing in genes from a hot water microbe, a fungus, and a cow.

Finally, here’s a funny picture of someone using a rake to cook hot dogs.

Harrassed by Machines

Monday, March 17th, 2008

We have been waiting for a joyous family event to occur any day now. So, when the phone rang this morning my momentary excitement quickly faded as a machine informed us our car warrantee was about to expire. The irony is, our cars are so old the warrantees expired many years ago. Someone typed in a wrong number and now a machine is nagging us.

As I cleaned up the spam on my blog this morning, my wife asked why anyone would bother to do it. The problem is, it’s not anyone, it’s probably a bot. The comments are moderated and any human would realize such efforts are futile. It reminded me I am paying a small monthly fee for call blocking because some Fax machine kept calling my voice line. I got the number and tried to reverse lookup the call with no luck. The phone company said I could contact the sheriff’s office and file a complaint but I signed up for the blocking service. I wonder if that Fax has given up.

If you are not familiar with bots; check out this article from USA Today. Also, here are two good free software tools to check your machine for spyware. One is called Adaware and the other one is Spybot.

My friend Matt sent me this link and comment on global warming;

Researcher: Basic Greenhouse Equations “Totally Wrong”
Very interesting. Politics is always involved in science.

Also I received this from my friend Dan;

Here are a couple of interesting articles you may want to discuss in your BLOG as a contrasting opinion:


Weather Channel Founder Blasts Network; Claims It Is ‘Telling Us What to Think’

The Founder of The Weather Channel Says Global Warming Is The “Greatest Scam in History”

Also, I found those questions asked to park rangers hilarious!

I find it interesting when the Weather Channel guy says he is not opposed to environmentalism yet seems to be defending the ‘right’ to spew tons of CO2 into the air. As I have mentioned before, it is very clear and measurable CO2 is acidifying the oceans. There really isn’t a ‘debate’ about it. I think this guy has a problem with Al Gore. I also find it strange when people defend pollution. I mean it’s not like it’s good for anything. Hopefully those guys are right and global warming isn’t a problem, but it’s not like we aren’t impacting the oceans and the atmosphere. At best these guys are saying we are changing the atmosphere and the good news is it’s not going to kill us, so far. So who wants to see how far we can push it?

I still think solar energy is going to quickly become so much cheaper than other forms of power people will use it for that reason. It’s a blog for another day but sunlight really has a very high energy density. Also, there is no ‘bottom’ on how cheap solar can get. You can’t sell electricity from coal any cheaper than the coal costs, but sunlight is free. It’s possible you could pay one tenth or one hundredth what you are paying today.

Also, check out this article from Next Energy News on ethanol from non-food sources. Ethanol does give less mileage than gasoline but if it cost $1.20 at the pump and it has a relatively stable price, no one is going to buy it because it’s carbon neutral. They will buy it because it’s a $1.20 a gallon and that price could go down.

One thing organic chemistry taught me is oil is just too valuable to burn. Most of chemical solvents used in modern chemistry, plus pharmaceuticals, and plastics are made from oil. If we ever use it up, it will affect a lot more than just transportation.

According to this raw eggs are good to use on burns. We always have an aloe plant on hand, but I might try the an egg next time just to see if it works.

I ran across this article on foods that are poisonous unless they are prepared properly. I agree with the author; someone must of been awfully hungry or strangely curious to try various cooking methods on food to make it non-poisonous.

These are billed as pictures of frozen waves but in reality I believe they are pictures of a glacier. They are quite stunning none the less.

Arrrg, and shiver me timbers, I wasted a whole lot of time yesterday playing this Flash game where you control a pirate ship. It made me wonder how much Flash is optimized to use video hardware. The game got pretty slow with a lot of cannon balls in the air. I suppose it’s from tracking the particles more than running the graphics.

Also from Dan, this link on the origins of domestic cats, and this video where two guys build a record player out of a bicycle.

Finally, another silly video of a dog named Jerry and his robotic ball throwing playmate.


Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I read this article in the New York Times today where 1 in 100 U.S. adults are now in prison. Is this necessary or just insanely expensive? The article talks about how much it cost to keep them there but doesn’t mention the revenue lost to income taxes not collected and so on. Here is a chart of incarceration rates for other countries.

Not that we shouldn’t keep the bad ones locked up, but using jail for every punishment is silly. Anyone who has dealt with the IRS or the BMV knows the government is quite capable of making you miserable without sending you to jail.

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tiny society

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RIAA to sue for song stuck in your head

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Just kidding. I have recently watched Steal This Film part 1, and Steal this Film part 2. Both the films are free to download and are about pirating music and video. I couldn’t help but think how bad this is going to be in the future when you have some digital memory merged into your brain which will allow you to make a perfect copy of a song the first time you hear it.

Larry Lessig is a professor at Stanford who is involved in the Creative Commons, a legal framework for sharing content. Apparently he has some political aspirations as well. Here is an entertaining Ted Talks video where he talks about the subject. I think one of the interesting points he makes is the corrosive effect of making things kids want to do illegal. That concept also comes across (at least to me) in those other two films.

Speaking of copying, a supernote is a nearly perfect counterfeit bill. I had bookmarked the original article at the Kansas City press but the link went into an archive. I had to search pretty hard to find the link above still containing my favorite quote:

Stranger yet, the number of supernotes found indicates that whoever is printing them isn’t doing so in large quantities. Only $50 million worth of them have been seized since 1989, an average of $2.8 million per year and not even enough to pay for the sophisticated equipment and supplies needed to make them.

Ha! Surely that means aliens or people from the future! Wikipedea also has something for you conspiracy theorists. Scroll down the page to the part about the CIA.

I have always wondered why people attribute UFO’s to aliens. I would argue a slightly better, but also totally crazy explanation is they are humans from the future. The reasons are, we live in the boonies of the Milky Way, we wouldn’t be interesting to them, and any civilization advanced enough for interstellar space travel would certainly have more entertaining things to do. On the other hand, humans from the future might be interested in us from an anthropology standpoint, as a tourism destination, or to find Sarah Connor. We may not have to wait long. According to this guy, aliens will make a mass appearance in 2013 or 2017.

What happens when you make a 3D printer that can make a 3D printer? The technology has a way to go but after I watched this video I started thinking which things in my house could be made with that type of machine.

Heineken bottles shaped like bricks. I have often wished you could buy water bottles in the shape of Legos so you could make a greenhouse out of them.

It was only a joke, but I used to say the day I get a Tattoo is when I can get an animated one. Well, here is an electronic one that runs on blood.

When the Wii came out, you just knew people were going to do all kinds of clever things with the controller. Johnny Lee uses one to control the point of view of a display with jaw dropping results. Check out this video of how remarkably 3D it looks.