Monday, October 27, 2008

WMML

What Makes Me Laugh...  Reviewing an Attenborough doco, listening to David enthusing about another creature "perfectly adapted to its environment," that's what.  All creatures great and small show compromise, there's not one "perfect adaptation" because if there was such, that creature would take over the environment.

What we understand of the selection and adaptation process, we know depends on the inherent flaws of the system, starting with the semirandom mutations of the DNA. Every system has parts with flaws, and every other system that can take advantage of those flaws, will.  It seems like the eventual aim of natural selection is to produce a biological equivalent of "grey goo" that will just coat the Earth in a thin layer, one organism.

So when there's a new niche in the "e-ecosystem," it's not surprising to find that an organism has started to explore it and try and make a living at it.  Which is pretty much what you're seeing here, in this article.  It's a wide open ecosystem, it can and does provide money and goods if approached right, and therefore equips anyone able to operate here to better survive, without needing skills like checkout operator at fast food stores, office clerking skills, or any other such.

It's gainful, if not legal, employment.  Being a banger or a burglar are also gainful, if not legal.  There's a niche - taking your stuff, your money - and some organisms (burglars) take it by one means, other organisms (banking and financial institutions) take it by more acceptable means.

The important thing to note is that you're the niche, the burglar and bank are the exploiting organisms.  Similarly, your money and your personal data (and therefore, access to your money held by the banks)  are now a niche online, and getting exploited.  It's survival of the fittest, now it's up to you to shore up defenses and repel the skript kiddies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's Why Speedometers Do That

Why Do Speedometers Go To 160MPH?  According to that article, they don't actually know, but they agree that it leads to the psychological itch to go that bit faster.  In one way, the coming of digital speedometers has to some extent shown old dial type speedos to be the bullshit that they are and thus are solving one issue.

But for my money?  The clue's in the "needle's only half way" remark.  We like to think our machines have some reserve over and above our requirements.  Yes, we have drivers who are only happy when the needles on all the gauges are hovering partway into the red, and they who push that envelope are our race car drivers. (Or our hoon drivers, if they didn't luck into a racing career.)

But for the rest of us, the sense of security we get from driving along with "plenty in reserve" is what sells those cars with the 220kph speedos.  (Amusingly enough, if you push the average car to the valve-bending limit they will top out around 150kph, and then the various engine parts end up making pretty patterns on the road behind you.  We're such suckers...)

Also, of course, there's no way a car manufacturer wants to see the speedo needle hitting the end stop.  So even though 140kph is realistic, they will add that extra 80 just to make sure you won't ever "wrap the needle."  The next model will get that fast, buddy, you betcha.  Just buy it when we release it okay?

Also, all that unused range on the dial makes sure we cling to the speed limit or just over.  Despite knowing that every millimeter we depress that pedal is another half a litre per 100km.  So in a lot of ways, cars with dial type speedos have contributed to deaths, pollution, and the cost of constantly replacing your car with the next model.

And here comes my "personal responsibility" homily, yeah yeah...  See, the reason car manufacturers do those sorts of things is simple.  It's because they work.  You and I and everyone else that buys a car and is swayed by the horsepower and top speed, have contributed to this.

At least we're now pushing for greener cars and thinking about driving a bit slower - aren't we?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Use Traffic Lights To MANAGE Traffic.

Okay - all you city planning authorities out there, looking for ways to green your cities and reduce pollution, reduce congestion, and make life easier for your citizens.  Lissen up, I have a thought for you.

I suggested, years ago, that a lot of traffic congestion could be reduced by designing the bigger better traffic light set.  Once again, the Most Abject Pathetic Technology & Electronics Kompany I worked for looked at me as though I'd sprouted three legs and an extra head when I suggested it, and once more, this is an idea well worth taking on board when you next send out a tender for replacing traffic lights.

It isn't hard, these days, to separate a video image into frames, and search each frame for salient features.  Such as "outline of a car," "outline of a motorcycle," and so forth.  Any reasonable computer can do this with ease.  Said reasonable computer can also compare one frame with a subsequent frame, and over a few frames, average the speed of all those detected salient features, as well as maintain a tally of how many such features are in frame.

So if you aim a camera back across the traffic lights at the oncoming traffic, the computer can tell how much traffic it has coming in, how fast that traffic is moving, and how much traffic has flowed in that direction for the last 24 hours.

Now suppose you have four such systems at each intersection, controlling the flow of traffic.  It doesn't matter what time of day it is, the traffic lights react to the existing stream of traffic and try and schedule so that the least cumulative amount of time is spent idling at the lights in all directions.

That move alone could reduce fuel use and pollution from idling at lights to insignificant amounts.  Since it takes a lot of energy to get rolling again once stopped, reducing the amount of times a vehicle has to stop makes an immense difference.  This is also true for electric vehicles (EVs) because they chew huge amounts of juice to start rolling again.

As a bonus, if there is a traffic stream (or single vehicle) approaching the controlled lights at a speed exceeding the speed limit, you can always provide a red light to them.  Then if they pass through the lights despite that, you have a picture of them running a red light, and also their speed at the time... %)

One last thought - if you don't want to waste the computing power needed for parsing images, perhaps you could respectfully ask car and immobiliser manufacturers to start placing a small piece of technology in their product - a Bluetooth beacon...  You could count the number of BT beacons at traffic lights just as easily as images, you'd lose the ability to enforce speed limits and the red light camera facilities, but it would simplify things a bit.

If you like my idea and decide to use it, feel free to.  But please also feel free to donate some money via my Paypal link so that I can continue to come up with new ideas...  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Few more details on the Joule.

A week ago I wrote about the newly-unveiled prototype of the Joule, a vehicle by South African company Optimal Energy and I was a bit short for details.

The vehicle is claimed to be capable of around 200km range on a single battery pack and 400km on dual battery pack.  That's quite a useable range.  All in all, it makes the Joule sound like a very useful and serviceable vehicle.

One quibble, you don't pay for the battery packs apparently - you lease them from Optimal.  If they just mean you lease the batteries and can then charge them yourself, that is fine.  They specifically mention a seven year lifespan for the batteries, as though you will retain lesseeship of them for the whole seven years.

But there's another alternative, one that needs to be clarified by Joule PR - what if they are just commenting in general that battery packs will last for seven years, but that their "lease" scheme means that you drive until the battery pack is flat, and then need to swap the battery pack for another "leased" battery pack?
I.e. they won't give you a Joule with a battery you own for seven years plus a charging cord, but rather it's like the "swap" system in use for propane gas bottles.  In this latter case, unless Joule has an outlet at every service station, the usefulness of the Joule would approach zero really quickly.  Because I seriously doubt Optimal Energy has that good an infrastructure in place.

So there's the battery to consider, and also, that kind of range comes at a price, which is top speed - the Joule is claimed to top out at "83mph," for whatever reasons.  It seems strange that they mention the odd 3 miles per hout, as though they have been straining all systems to get to that speed, like downhill with a tailwind...  Or it may be to give you inchworm-like 3mph awesome overtaking speed at 80.

Either way, I would not rely on a Joule to take me out in the country, which means EVs are not flexible enough yet.  That said, I still think the Joule is a commendable effort, and if they were available and I was able to afford a new car, the Joule would, at this stage, probably be it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A HUGE Thank You To All!

Thanks to everyone who passed the link to that previous article out, I noticed a spike for the day, and hopefully it has reached, or will now reach, the eyes of someone with the necessary vision and resources to make it happen.  I tried to start things locally, but it's hard because this takes resources which no-one I know has.

*fingers crossed*

Want To Sell Something Other Than Cars?

Since I've just badly taken the mickey out of the so-called "designers" of solar and electric vehicles, I herewith present my positive contribution to the matter of EVs and SEVs.

Just think...  Why exactly are you re-inventing the wheel, automotive, EV, and SEV designers?  What is it that people all over the world are wanting?

  1. They want to be reassured that whatever they purchase next, it will not be as damaging to the environment as past efforts have been.
  2. They want to stop hurting in the pocketbook, getting gouged ever more and more money for less and less of Point 1 above.
  3. They want to see the difference in their bank book, in the air around their suburb, and around the world.
  4. They don't necessarily want to give up their cars and conveniences for it.
  5. It shouldn't look like a golf buggy that smashed into a pyramid and got bred to a flying saucer.  People aren't ready for the Jetsons Age just yet.

And as it turns out, there is a solution!

First of all, car manufacturers must realise that there has been a degree of culpability for the current crisis.  Pushing people to buy car after car after car, model after model, year after year - that has not really worked out all that well, has it?  Secondly, car owners holding on to old fossil fuel technology is not a desirable outcome either.  Yes it would mean less cars need to be produced and thus save all that impact on the environment - but the older tech creates a pollution problem of its own...

So what you want is for people not to buy your latest greatest car the minute it hits showroom floors, meaning a massive scaleback in automobile production.  But you don't want them driving 15 year old smogblowers, either.  And you definitely want to keep making money.  What to do, what to do?

Turns out, you have already made a market for yourselves.  In the last 20 years, front-wheel drive vehicles have become more and more common, as we realised that turning a tailshaft and rear differential was less efficient than putting all those components in the front.  Handling was affected, but it made for a cheaper manufacturing process because smaller engines could be used.  Engine computers also got more power out of those smaller engines.  Another saving.

The next thing that has jumped is the technology of batteries.  Currently (no pun intended) there are some fairly light and robust batteries out there, and soon there will be carbon nanotube supercapacitors that will dance rings around present state of the art.

Oh yes - and solar panels can actually be printed onto things now, cheaply and easily.  And motors and drive circuits can become very very very cheap and efficient.

And there you have your perfect market, the perfect way to be green, keep your cars on the road longer and with less pollution, and still have a product to sell:

You know how the computer is programmed in your front wheel drive small car.  You can put an aftermarket kit together, comprising a control unit that interfaces to the engine computer, a solar panel that fits to the roof, a set of batteries that fit under the back seat, and two new rear wheel hubs that have electric motors in them.

Now your front wheel drive small car can suddenly use less fuel, produce less pollution, and cost your customers less to run.  They still buy the kit, but many governments give a rebate for putting solar and electric power on cars so they don't face a huge cost.  Handling improves because a smart controller will assist the driver with the electric motors, making the cars safer.  You as a car manufacturer have a new product, and it will sell like hotcakes so you'll make up in volume for the sales of new vehicles you'll miss.

Don't think it would work?  No-one would be interested in an aftermarket kit that reduces running costs?  Just look at the mad scramble to fit gas conversion kits to cars.  The only thing is that car manufacturers lost control of the retrofit side of things, to freelancers.  But the need to intimately tie the electric drives to the car computers will give you a head start and effectively let you control this particular upgrade.

If you like my idea and decide to use it, feel free to.  But please also feel free to donate some money via my Paypal link so that I can continue to come up with new ideas...  

The Android Kill Switch And You.

Android android android! Apple brick, Apple wossname, Apple cinema! I think what really shits me to tears about the techie and gadget blogs is that they seem to ALL chew the same things into a tasteless mush.  Once you've heard for the fiftieth time that some tech company has been rumoured to say that the idea of a new tetris-playing left handed toilet roll holder that uses Linux and dispenses via SMS messages is not completely stupid so they must be about to release one - well, when you get that same crap served up for the 50th time without a single original or extraneous thought, you just want to vomit a little bit, then smash your computer and never use another one as long as you live...

As it has been with this - the nefarious Android Kill switch ...  I mean, come on!  Yes Apple did this and caused a shitstorm, and yes it's a bit shitty of Google to do this, but...  hey...  Are you guys hearing yourselves?  How hard was it to jailbreak an iPhone?  A closed source operating system?  So how long before the first kill switch killer appears, given this is open source?

Get over yourselves you boring little sensationalists...

....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to Open OpenID?

A blog post not so far in the past - I basically had the same kind of evaluation of OpenID - it is a good system b0rked by useability and trust issues.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm done bitching about OpenID and will not use it unless it's unavoidable, or unless its useability improves markedly.  Meanwhile, I've got a suggestion to make:

How about keeping a personal ID registry someplace - just as ICANN keeps domain contact info and domain info already?  Put it on the existing domain name infrastructure, you can then get on the Internet as an anonymous mug user who has to use usernames and passwords at every site, and if you want a common ID you contact them and pay for your screen name just as domain owners pay for a domain.

You would use an RSA active key synced to the root servers or to your local server, and that pretty much identifies you.  Even a USB key based one that sends a keep-alive to the server on a regular basis, that way you don't even have to log out - just take your key with you and that's it - logged out of the machine, the websites, everything.

Yes, you lose your anonymity but come on - with several million surveillance cameras, your driver's license, social security and tax file numbers, bank accounts, etc - how much privacy do you delude yourself you currently have?  Get used to it...  As far as I'm concerned the advantages of this would outweigh any potential to lose more privacy than I already have lost.

Yes - the RSA keys will cost - but on the order of dollars, not hundreds of dollars.  And yes, they are easy to lose - but (l)users will soon learn to have a bit of respect if they have to pay to re-register a new nickname and buy a new key every time they do something stupid...

And yes - there are hundreds - if not thousands - of spam and fake domains in operation despite the checking of namespaces, I agree.  But that's a quite a few orders of magnitude less than there are zombie machines on the 'net today that would be totally boned if the USB key was removed at the end of the user's session and thus cuts all legitimate communications between that machine and the Internet.

There are totally bogus names and details in the domain contacts list, too.  Yep, I'll totally agree.  But they do function as an identity - they evaluate to one user somewhere out there in meatspace, and that's really all we want here, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is That A Person, A Chimp, Or A Robot?

What rights does a robot have?  This isn't much important right now, I guess, because lets face it, our current robots don't do much more than blow themselves up disarming IEDs or getting themselves shot at to save having that happen to soldiers, or they sweep our rooms, or they dance cute little dances and play soccer.

The problem is that some people with artificial limbs have a better robotic limb than most robots have got.  And the line is gonna blur, very fast.  And before you know it, a machine with nothing more than a human's brain in it will be pushing the boundary and asking the Millenium Man question...

Trouble is, we're already in trouble before we get to robots.  Primates and large apes are being considered for actually being "people" - and that on grounds that are going to open a whole lot more doors...  They are being described as having all the requirements to be considered "people," such as self awareness, using appropriate forms of communication to each situation, tool use, and more.

Trouble is, by that standard there are other species such as elephants, crows, and dozens more - and they would also all come within their whiskers of the same definitions. They are self aware, have cultures passed on within social groups, use tools to accomplish tasks, use appropriate communication methods, have rudimentary "languages" to pass information.

Now to another consideration - we can take an animal, mess with its genetics, and produce a tiny organic robot, a machine designed to do just one or two specialised tasks.  Is THAT a robot, an animal, or a person?

The further you dig, the deeper you get in.  Suppose I had contact lenses, an artificial heart, prosthetic arms and legs, a plate in my skull, and used a steady flow of chemicals to manage things like immune rejection, digestive timing, infection, and whatever else.  Am I still human?  I'll tell you I am.  If you somehow managed to upload my brain and personality into a small supercomputer, it too would tell you it was human.

So scuse me for bringing it up, but someone has to.  Because, at the rate technology keeps leapfrogging, the moment when a human brain in a mechanical body modeled on a chimp will show up in the news and demand an answer to this question...

Added FeedBlitz

Hey all - I've put all the blogs together on FeedBlitz if anyone wants email delivery of all articles on all blogs nightly.  You can go to http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=245899 to subscribe, the feed for all the blogs seems to vary between 5 a day all up to maybe 2 a week sometimes.  All depends if I have access to the Internet, have time, and if there is interesting stuff going on in the world.

The blogs in the FeedBlitz email are:

TEdALOG Lite - General commentary, bullshit, yarn spinning, and what have you. I enjoy seeing such articles, and I enjoy writing them.  I hope you also will enjoy them. 
TEdADYNE Systems - Cyborg Ethics - with technology and our bodies seemingly destined to get mingled, what are going to be ethical questions we face, what technology is around to make it happen now?  Also, ideas for IT and technology - I tend to have quite a few...
Zencookbook Blog - Anything that's eco friendly, green, good for your body - this blog is a companion to the book.  Some ideas for sustainable living, occasional DIY projects that will save your money or your environment or both, and links to great green ideas out there.
TEdAMENU Tuckertime - Recipes I've developed, tried out, or enjoyed. Generally healthy-ish and very varied.  Some of them fit into the Body Friendly Zen Cookbook range, they will usually have a list of active constituents at the foot of the recipe.

You can also go to The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook site.  It's not a blog though (not yet, at any rate!) so it stays pretty static.  That said, I will be updating that site over the next few months though.

Please refer anyone you think might benefit from these sites - the ideas may well be just what some business has been looking for - in which case they are welcome to use them, if they will only attribute them to the right person, i.e. me.  Recipes for healthy easy meals - you're more than welcome to them.  A neat project for yourt home or garden that will save power, or water, or money?  Take the article and have fun!  And everyone can do with a laugh in their lives - so if TEdALOG Lite made you grin, I feel happy too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clever! Why Didn't The Aliens Think Of This?

... oh wait ...

Umm we thought of it!  It's funny, we have robot explorers on Mars looking for water and signs of life, but are we even sure what we'd be looking for?  I mean, maybe the Mars explorers have already run over something, maybe the spacecraft up there have already seen those elusive signs.  I mean - yeah, we could "land" an explorer on Earth and we'd see pretty obvious things like trees and ants.  But A) there are areas on Earth where a robot like a Mars explorer wouldn't see a single sign that something is alive on Earth.  And B) what about looking from up in space, a few million miles away?  Would we know a sign of life if it bit the satellite in the exhausts?

Luckily, we're now a lot closer to finding out the answer to one of those things.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

THE Breakthrough Killer App For GPS Phones - For FREE!

There's this concept for phones at the moment, that the developers say will allow you to see areas not directly visible to you.  The article is written in a slightly feverish puerile tone to make you think of peering through the walls of the ladies' room.  Big deal, really.  They're missing the two most important developments here.

One:  (which I covered in brief in this previous post ) details a concept much like the above already, which would provide "balloon help" of the form of social tags people placed, using their mobile phones, at specific GPS locations.  I said I'd pushed for the development of such a system four - five years ago at a particularly unimaginative and (as it turns out) loser company, but with added features.  More on this in a moment.

Two:  Which my previous post also sort of covered, is the use of images, not just text tags.

Please note that from here on, I'm doing it again - I'm revealing an idea that, had said previous employer taken the development on, would have meant they had a three year headstart on the competition, and if a cellphone or software development company were to take it on now, it would put them a year, maybe three, ahead of their competitors even now.   It's an edge.

And the idea that I had, and which is still applicable, is the leveraging the use of crowds, as all the best apps do, to provide rich content, which is what sells your application to consumers, for minimal cost - which is what sells the application to your accountants...

Take a device that's capable of geolocation, such as a GPS enabled phone or PDA.  Now make sure it has a camera on it as well.  That's all the end user needs.

Now take a server side software that can accept photos from those devices, which are tagged with GPS information, and pass them through a photo stitch process and can use salient features in the images to decide where to stitch, then use other GPS tagged photos (taken from slightly different locations) to figure out the orientation of the photo stitch, and each photo that composes the stitch.

You see the point?  I can now take a photo, the server compares it to existing pictures in my location as given y my GPS, and from that it figures out what direction I'm facing, what azimuth and elevation the camera was at.  No need for accelerometers and compasses.

In fact, the server can probably tell me to within three degrees, what direction my camera was faced.  More than that, it can now offer me a range of options to do with my location.  For instance, it can provide me with images that look like the walls are transparent, i.e. I can see pictures other people have previously taken of the unseen parts.  It means I am so much better prepared when I go through a door (for instance) wheeling a trolley full of documents, and won't snag on the photocopier just inside the door and to the left.

I also want to be able to view adverts for businesses in the building I just photographed, reviews of them (that's the social tagging part of the application) and see a gallery of pictures.  Did you just spot that?  "I also want to be able to view adverts for businesses in the building" the company building this gets to sell location based targeted advertising - and users are going to want it!  Because they want to know about that shop they're outside of.

Why are the users going to provide the content?  Well, to be informed of a place or feature they will need to take a picture of it.  That picture, if it's better than others or fills in a missing detail,  will become content.  And because we all have opinions and like to make them known, tags and reviews will flow in too.  A good piece of software will choose the most common themes out of the reviews and synthesise them into the popular voice, as well as providing anyone that wants it with all the original reviews and tags.  At data prices, but there you go.  Take as much or as little as you feel you need.

The utility doesn't end there though.  Suppose I wanted to go to Noddy's Noodle Nirvana in my home city of Nedlington, Nebraska.  No problem.  I search for Noddy's in the database using my phone, and it gets preloaded into my GPS/mapping function of the phone.  I can see pictures of the place and surroundings, find places to park nearby.  In effect, I've found my way to Noddy's before even leaving, scouted the layout, planned my parking or bus route, and I'm now on my way.

I arrive there, and Noddy's nutty noodle chef has set the place ablaze.  I'm trapped inside.  But the phone knows I'm there, and the fire alarm has triggered a message to my phone showing me where the exits are.  I make it outside and see the Fire Chief using his mobile device to call up a plan of the building, where the lifts and exits are, the hydrants, structural details, members of his team.  Anyone with a similarly equipped phone, the Chief is fully aware of where they are at any given moment, until they leave the mission zone.  Am I out in the muster area?  Trapped in a stairwell?  200 yards away and out of the picture?  My phone will have let the emergency teams know.  Need to access surveillance cameras and see what's happening?  Sure, the system knows where each camera is and if you have the clearance, you get to use them.

Is that not what a Killer App comprises of?  Useful, money-making, life-saving, simple to implement?   If you work for a cellphone or software developer and find this idea just grabs you, feel free to use my Paypal link and make a huge donation... %)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Smarter Traffic Lights Could Save The World

Following on from that previous post , about free electric vehicles:  If you're a mayor of a large city and want to reduce the pollution, the waste of fuel, the extra thousands of litres of fuel your citizens use every week, you may well want to commission someone to help you with a few road changes...

I've long maintained that a leading cause of speed and alcohol related accidents in cities occur at intersections.  You can agree with me or disagree, I just think back to how much detritus I see from accidents at intersections versus the rather smaller amount of broken glass at points along lesser roads.

Speeding to a light to catch the amber would have to rank really high on the list of intersection accidents, is what I would say, judging from the number times a day I see cars flashing across intersections just as my light is turning green.

So - given that computer power is dirt cheap these days, and software exists to examine an image for known outlines such as "car" or "motorcycle" or "truck" - why aren't there four or eight computers in that big ugly traffic light controller box at intersections, and at least two cameras pointing at oncoming traffic in each direction?

The average traffic light set is an embarassingly stupid pile of relays, and in the case of Perth, most of them worked on high voltage AC current until recently, and still had filament light bulbs.  Only recently have they changed to LED bulbs, which has no doubt increased reliability, but I'd say they are still on mains AC voltage...

Back to my point:  If a computer can compare the length of the traffic tails in each direction, it can adjust the green and red times of the lights to suit traffic conditions.  This would reduce the amount of time that cars spend standing still at lights, idling, wasting fuel, and creating an emissions congestion, a "stink spot."  Any easing in traffic flows has to save fuel and pollution, right?  In periods of low traffic, it can even make it possible for vehicles to flow straight through, using its control to cycle the lights more rapidly than it would during a congested period.

But the most important benefit is a hidden one:  You can see the speed of each individual vehicle by comparing subsequent frames of video.  That means that, even in the case where traffic is light, you would give a red light automatically to a single speeding vehicle, or a column of vehicles the majority of which are speeding.  You standardise the speed of traffic and make it easier to adjust the flows between lights, and you discourage speeding drivers who soon perceive speeding as being non-productive.

And because you have those cameras, if a speeder does run a red light, you have a nice pretty picture of them for their court case...

Free Car, Anyone?

If you got a free car offered to you, wouldn't you?  This article says that financial wizardry can somehow make that happen, that you can own a car for the same cost as repayments on a conventional vehicle.

I'm going to go a step further...

Imagine for a moment, that you are one of the countless suburbs dwellers who commute to work, using the bus and train services or your own car or a carpool car.  Whichever way you travel will cause pollution and greenhouse gas emission.  Electric trains are some way towards being much friendlier, and many cities have them.  But suppose you're not in the service area for a local train?

You'd take a bus.  Now I've seen diesel buses, petrol buses, natural gas buses, and hydrogen fueled buses.  Except for the last, they still emit unacceptable amounts of pollution.

So - suppose that an entire city decided to "green up."  What can they do?  Well - how about banning anything other than approved electric vehicles in the city centre, and major business centres?  Most businesses only need to transport staff around, and have a commuter workforce that generally comes from the suburbs, an average of 5 to 25 miles each way.  If you could put those people into the buses and trains, you'd achieve a major reduction in pollution.

Now suppose you gave each household (excluding flats and apartments) which is within the city a free electric car. It's not transferable, is permanently assigned to the house.  You can take just yourself, or yourself and your car pool friends, that's up to you.  You will have to pay electricity to recharge the car, and a surcharge fee to the local council or shire, and pay for damaged or lost vehicles.  But essentially you have a free transport.

Now make the city's centres a "no go" area for conventional vehicles.   Also, make major commute routes a no-go zone as well, cut down on conventionally-fueled vehicles in long queues.  People with their own ZEV/PZEV vehicles are permitted, people with their free electric vehicles will be permitted, and anyone who absloutely requires to use a conventional engined vehicle in those no-go zones may buy a permit by the year.

It would take only a few months to make a place green this way.

Where to get these vehicles?  Well, one of the reasons electric vehicles are so hella expensive is that they are competing on the road with much heavier, much faster conventional vehicles.  They have to be designed to resist a 250km/h impact even though any two EVs would only ever have a combined impact speed of about 150km/h, because conventional vehicles share the road with them.  Since you're taking the majority of those off the road with the permit system, you reduce the problem to near zero.  Most major roads have the capability to have an isolated "high speed" lane for permit vehicles, thus separating the traffic

Also - consider smaller electric buses.  LOTS of them.  Since most places already have a transit card system, you can make the electric buses a cheaper fare, afford to run tens of thousands instead of thousands.  Rely on the fact that work on new ultracapacitor batteries will reduce the time taken for recharging a bus down to a minute or two, and give enough juice to make it a viable means of transport.  Your old fossil-eating buses? Sell them to the people who want a mobile home.  (And can afford the cost of running them...)  Or turn them into emergency facilities that can be moved to where they're needed.  Nothing fancy, just kitchens and small surgeries and so forth.

One last thought.  Thousands of people lose their lives every week, in city traffic accidents.  The leading cause of these accidents is excessive speed.  If you want to reduce that death toll, this is another way to that goal.

Self-Defeating Devices 101 - classes in "what the?"

Unless there are an awful LOT of devices in your home drawing so-called "vampire power" (i.e. they still draw power even when turned off, as most TVs and audio equipment still seems to do) you might not see the value in this device.  I mean, it has to remain powered up in order to manage the other power points, and each power point where you plug in one of the remote receiver/switch units will be drawing vamp power itself.  Seems kind of pointless to me...

Solar. Now U Doin It Right.

First, a random thought about "poo humour." Why?  hehehehe when someone has an article like this one, why mess with the words "poo power" when they could just come right out and say "shitricity, fo shiz!"  Much better "ring" to it.  (oops, no pun intended.  yeah.)

UPDATE: Awwww crap!  Just too many articles on this topic for me to 'void it, must be a movement... 


UPDATE to the UPDATE: I've broken this out to a new post as today, the crap articles have flowed freely...  I'm flushed from laughing... 

Thoughts on suntricity (hehehe wish I could copyright this but someone else uses it as a business name already) as I read articles.  A certain company has been making the rounds with their tubular cells but they've kind of missed the boat on one or two things they could do to improve their product, in my book.

  • One, it's glass tubes.   At least flat panels have progressed to the point where they are warranted against 1" (2.4cm) hailstones for breakage, these tubes don't inspire me with the same confidence. Sorry...
  • Two, they do say it's difficult to manufacture their CIGS technology , especially in a tubular format.   See my suggestions further down.
  • Three.  Cylindrical format.  Ah-uh.  Sorry folks at Solyndra, there are two things I think of immediately.  First, you say there's some "reflection" off the underlying rooftop but unless you space the tubes well apart, there should be no such thing.  And if you do space the tubes apart to allow light through, then you're wasting surface area.  Secondly, the reflected energy is much less than the direct energy so it's not going to account for a significant increase in energy production.  
  • Four.  Claimed low wind loading allows the panels to just be sat on roofs without needing tricky mountings.  Sorry.  I totally disagree, there are any number of wind strengths between calm and cyclone that can lift surprisingly heavy objects off your roof.  I totally wouldn't just rely on "low wind loading" and friction to hold my investment of suntricity to the roof.  Low wind loading also has to be achieved by leaving bigger spaces between tubes, see "Three" above.
There are several things Solyndra can do though, to make their concept more of a market winner.  Here's my favourites:

  • If you can print cylinders with CIGS material, then you should also be able to print corrugated sheets.  Instantly, you still have the same "presents more area to the sun during the day" kind of curved upper surface, but now you also have the spaces between the "half-tubes" used to collect solar radiation.  
  • And cover the upper surface with some tough transparent coating, that will withstand a few hailstones.  
  • Lastly, get over the fact that you'll need to mount the panels, at least to some degree.  Look at it this way - corrugation lends a lot of strength to the material so complicated mountings are still not necessary, it's still cheap to put them up.  And you'd only have to produce the cells in 2" to 4" wide wiggly strips, then bond 36 of them to a corrugated backing sheet and you have an 18V panel.  No need for glass, either.  Some form of fibreglass or other rigid plastic would do the job nicely, and still be light, to boot.

Oh - look here!  Maybe you could talk to this company and use their film material to make your corrugated cells from...  Or take an idea from their process, which can be much more easily applied to a corrugated sheet than a cylinder.

Oh - and if you're making such cells, then for simplicity's sake produce the backing sheets in a size and spacing that will just lay on top of building material like ordinary corrugated iron.  Then, a corrugated iron roof can be easily clad with solar panels, and if you make your material conform to building code, the corrugated roofing can be made of just your solar panels, leading to a lighter roof that performs a dual function.

Oh - and one last thought.  Photovoltaic cells all have one other trait - they get less efficient the hotter they get.  Do yourself a favour, and make the backing sheet a structure with tubes built in, so that you can pass water through to cool the cells and provide hot water to the building the panels are attached to.  Two extra benefits for the price...

As always, if you work at one of these places and like my ideas, contact me, or make a donation using my Paypal link, or both.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Methanade?

You know what they say, "when the world hands you lemons, make lemonade" - well, I don't understand why there aren't companies piping this and using it to generate electricity or some other form of useful work.  I mean - it's going to end up in the atmosphere and doing a lot of damage if we just let it go, it wouldn't be possible to confine or convert it, so why not use it to reduce some amount of fossil fuel use?

A small, agile power company could probably make enough money on this to make it worthwhile, and collect accolades for being green at the same time...

It's A New Meme For Life.

Love the closing remarks on this article - spooky how synchronous things can be sometimes...

"Check your hair shirt at future's door. Sustainability and personal responsibility go well together."


Or this article , favourite quote: "Well, it turns out that small steps and individual actions DO make a difference."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fossett - Where Was His EPRIB?

Far more than the "mystery" surrounding Fossett's death, there's a question that bugs me - what happened to his EPIRB?  I'm not sure of the aviation law regarding EPIRBs on aircraft in the States, but I believe it's a requirement under the Law here to have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on aircraft, and they want to make the same thing law for watercraft at some point, too.

Thing is, an EPIRB is made to be pretty much indestructible.  It transmits a signal on a specific VHF frequency, can transmit continuously for days, and it's pretty hard for it not to be noticed because every aircraft checks the frequency, satellites monitor it, and groundstations have dedicated receivers on that frequency.  That's the beauty of an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter, another name for an EPIRB) onboard.  It's a very very very rare occasion that they fail to operate, and when they do, it's generally not long before someone's at the scene.

I can understand how a crash can occur in rugged country, given a puff of cloud or a laspe of attention.  Clouds in particular are dangerous when close to terrain.  Many pilots are familiar with the joking term "cumulus granitus" meaning a cloud with a montain enshrouded inside it.  It doesn't have to be a large cloud, they are surprisingly dense when you're in them, and amazingly large compared to how you perceive them from the ground.

I'll look forward to reading why the owner of the plane, one of the richest men in the world, couldn't afford to put a life saving device in an aircraft he loaned to someone else to trust their life to.

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