Thoughts

Spring 2007

Everlasting Light

Technology / June 22nd

The Economist has an interesting article about a new type of light bulb that is ten times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and twice as efficient as compact fluorescents.

The technology is similar to a fluorescent or a metal hilide bulb in that a gas is energized into a glowing plasma. The difference is that rather than having an electrode at each end as in a fluorescent, the bulb itself is just a sealed glass tube with the gas inside that is energized by a microwave emitter. Because it uses microwaves rather than electricty, so long as the tube doesn't break they can theoretically last indefinitely.

Far brighter than LEDs and more scalable to large applications (LEDs require arrays of small individual bulbs to create large lights), the light can also be a single point of emission, meaning it can be used in video projectors which currently require expensive bulbs that need regular replacement, as well as headlights and spotlights. The technologies involved are already proven, meaning that there shouldn't be many barriers to mass production. While initially is will probably carry a higher cost, nothing in the design would prevent it from being very affordable. Additionally, none of the components use toxic mercury as in fluorescents.

Ceravision --the company developing the technology-- has a picture of the device on their website and are currently working with manufacturers to evaluate the product, which appears to be close to ready for production. There is more information about how it works on their technology page.

Running in Place

Personal / June 20th

I haven't posted many Thoughts recently, and what I have posted has been Site News. I was on a good roll for a while posting new things about every week. Unfortunately the frequency has been on a steady decline for months, and I've identified two reasons. The first and simpler answer is that I haven't seen nearly as many articles or videos or developments that I wanted to share. Maybe there are fewer cool things going on, maybe I'm in a mood to find things less interesting, I'm not sure.

The other is that Thoughts is usually just that: what I'm thinking about. Recently, especially very recently, most of my thinking has been somewhat personal and introspective, and not what I feel like sharing on the Internet. Part of it is that the ideas I have are not fully formed or not worth discussing. Part of it concerns where I'm going personally, professionally, and what my greater direction is, and those are deliberations that need to be private until I actually make decisions.

What I can share is that with my birthday last week, and another year of my life past, I'm feeling introspective in that I want to make sure that what I am doing will get me where I want to be. A large part of that is looking at what I've done in the last five years or so and deciding what has worked and what hasn't, and more importantly, why various things succeeded or failed. Ultimately I know where I want to get, who I want to be, and what I want to do, the struggle is always in how I get there. At this stage I am concluding that I am not currently on a track that will get me there, and that what I have done thus far has not gotten me where I feel I need to be.

With each passing year, getting to where I want to be when I want to be there becomes a steeper hill if I'm not improving my situation as quickly as I want to. The biggest challenge in all of this is striking the balance between living today the way I want to, and preparing for the tomorrow I want. Just as I am not willing to give up enjoying summers and spending weekends with friends and family, I'm not willing to postpone efforts either, and that is causing me to reevaluate some other priorities. Ultimately, one will have to give to the other, and I think the past few years has seen me favor the wrong side.

Quotables

Site News / June 1st

Before the redesign, I had a random quote on the home page and then a Quotes section that listed all of them. Quotes as a section seemed sort of excessive, given it was fairly small and didn't get changed much. So with the redesign, I removed the Quotes section but left the random one on the home page. Since then I've found that sometimes I wanted to find a specific quote. I was able to browse for it in the database via the administration system, but I figured it would be fairly simple to make it a bit more available.

A couple of stylesheet and template additions later, the full list of quotes is available by clicking on the random one on the home page. I also trimmed and modified the list slightly. New ones won't register on the RSS or the last updated date on the site, since I don't really consider them that important, but if you want you now have a way to get to all of them.

Projects Section Launched

Site News / May 28th

I've finally launched the first new section since the redesign: Projects. I've only managed to add one project so far, namely the Cathedral project, which was a photography trip Eriq and I took to Gary, Indiana where we did some urban exploration of the City Methodist Church, which has been abandoned for over twenty years.

I have some other new projects to add, but give me some time. Adding this section revealed a number of things I needed to work on, particularly around the style sheet. I've got it working mostly the way I want it to, but there will definitely be some tweaks to come. I may change a couple of layouts, but we'll see. I also made some further improvements to the administration side that helped me develop and launch the new section. That, too, has a long way to go.

The projects entries show up individually on the rss feed, but that's kind of useful because some projects will grow after they are initially posted. So if you got a bunch of updates, I apologize. I also apologize for any problems anyone ran into with the site the past few days. There were some unanticipated challenges that I had to fix and I know there were some minor glitches. I hope you like the new section, and keep checking back for new stuff!

(Update: I also modified the RSS feed so that the Project posts link to the project itself and not the root of the section)

Passive Heating and Cooling

Technology / May 22nd

The New York Times had an article a few days ago about a company that recently won the Modern Marvels "Invent Now" challenge. The company is Enertia, and their invention is a method of building houses to store and release solar energy over the course of a day, a season, and a year. The system is completely passive, so it consumes no electricity and can virtually eliminate the need for a furnace or air conditioner.

Essentially the design is to have a sunroom or other contained room on the south facing wall that has a lot of windows. This room is has vents to the attic and basement. The other exterior walls are double thick with a gap or channel that allows air to flow between the attic and the basement. The exterior wall is solid wood, typically southern yellow pine because of its ability to absorb and release heat slowly due to the natural resins of the wood undergoing a phase change at 70°. This effect is enhanced by adding a crystal to the resin.

The way this system works is that in the summer, the sun heats up the air in the southern room, causing it to rise into the attic. This forces air from the cool basement to rise up through the vents. Because of the channels, air can travel back down to the basement to be cooled again. In addition, ventilation in the attic allows the hottest air to escape, and ventialtion in the basement draws outside air in. In the winter, these vents are closed, and the warm air from the southern room is forced back down to the basement.

In all of these seasons, the solid wood and resin trap heat and provide insulation from temperature changes. At night, heat trapped during the day is released, and during the day, the wood is cooler from the night, keeping the house cooler.

Enertia claims to have built over 80 houses using this system and that they can cut energy bills by 60%. I find this especially interesting since I've been reading about various passive heating a cooling methods for years since I'd like a system like that in my dream home.

Hyperspace is Only a Dimension Away

Technology / April 26th

If you're interested at all in theoretical physics, especially as it pertains to the feasibility of interstellar space travel, then you might want to know about Heim Theory. Heim was an eccentric German physicist who produced several works of theoretical physics, with his own unified theory. His work has never been peer reviewed, so it isn't taken especially seriously by many physicists. However, Heim's theories successfully predicted the mass of several particles, lending them at least some credibility. I read about Heim maybe a year ago, and was really intrigued.

Heim's theories about the nature of the universe, call for conversion of photons into artificial gravity through magnetic fields, multiple dimensions, and several predictions of particle masses and their nature. There are a number of parts in the theory that have since been experimentally disproved, and some question about the accurate predictions it does make, but so far it hasn't been conclusively disproved.

New Scientist has a great article about his theory, as well as how it could be used to develop a "Hyperspace drive", capable of taking humans to Mars in a few hours. The drive would require incredible amounts of current and a huge rotating ring suspended above a superconducting coil, making it unlikely that it will be tested any time soon.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. Confirmation of Supersymmetry, a major key to string theory and other non-Standard Model theories, would completely invalidate Heim's theory. Conversely, however, if Supersymmetry were disproved it may lead to more research into Heim's other predictions. The Large Hadron Collider is believed to be capable of detecting super-symmetry if it exists, and so far has not succeeded. Hopefully we will know for sure within a few years.

For me at least, a tangible link between the esoteric research of super-colliders and actual future possibilities like Hyperspace drives is fascinating. Instead of saying 'so what does this mean for me?' when I hear an announcement about some failure or success of a particle physics experiment, I'll be checking to see if Heim was right and we have a chance at starships, or if we're stuck on this planet for the foreseeable future.

Flagrant mis-use of the Intarweb

Cool Stuff / April 18th

For those of you who don't know who Stephen Colbert is, I encourage you to check his show out. Playing the part of a conservative hawk on Comedy Central, Colbert uses sarcasm and facetiousness (two methods I enjoy myself) to make a point wholly opposite what he says. Politics aside, he also covers Internet memes and other current events.

Currently an effort is underway to produce a Google bomb that points "Greatest Living American" to his site. If enough people use this link, his site will rise in Google's search results for that phrase. Having never participated in a Google bomb before, I figured I should jump on the bandwagon. However, Google reportedly has modified their search engine to prevent these tactics from working. 'Miserable Failure', for example, no longer points to George W. Bush's biography. It's unclear if this was an intentional modification or a consequence of some algorithm enhancement.

Vertical Farms

Technology / April 3rd

Reminding me more than a little of one of the aspects of Sim City 2000's arcologies, Vertical Farms were the subject of a recent New York Magazine article. The basic concept is that you could build a skyscraper that contains a farm for growing fruits, vegetables, even raising animals, right in the middle of a city.

The reasons for this include conservation of land, better control over the environment by making it completely self-contained, as well as taking advantage of existing city resources and infrastructure. For example, gray water produced by water treatment plants that is currently dumped into rivers could be used to irrigate the vertical farm. Pesticides and herbicides could be eliminated because there would be no outside pests or weeds in the enclosed environment, and costs would be dramatically reduced because much of the system could be automated. Not only that but transportation costs would be slashed because crops would be produced where they were needed, crops could be grown year-round even in cold climates, and some of the recaptured land could be restored to a natural state, reducing greenhouse gases, erosion, and the spread of invasive species that thrive in homogeneous farm environments.

Overall I think it is a really cool idea, and I hope that it is explored further, since it's still at the concept stage. I'd also like to mention that when I was a kid and drew futuristic cities, I totally included farming skyscrapers. I'm not saying I had the idea first, but if it seemed obvious then it seems even more-so now.

Statistics, Lies, and Damn Statistics

Web Design / April 3rd

I found this interesting and thought I'd share it. The website w3schools.com maintains Web Browser Statistics as well as operating system stats with month-by-month results that let you see the trends. The problem with this source is that it comes from their visitors, and the average visitor to w3schools (a web development site) doesn't accurately reflect the web as a whole. I moved on to TheCounter.com. Their page also shows month-by-month results, but on separate pages. However, since their data represents a broader cross section of web users, I think it's more valuable.

They place Internet Explorer 6 at 58% of the market, IE7 gaining at 25%, FireFox up to 12%, Safari climbing up to 3%, IE 5 still clinging to 1%, and my own favorite Opera at about 1% as well. IE6 was over 80% in October, so it's clearly being replaced quickly by IE7. Unfortunately they don't have Operating System statistics.

On my own site I can't easily discern how browser shares break down since the RSS feed greatly skews the results towards browsers that poll RSS, plus all the development I do is reflected as visits from Opera. In any case, it will be interesting to see if IE7 takes the crown from IE6 or if Firefox will keep growing. Of course, I'd like to see Opera take off, but I don't think it gets enough press.