Thursday, November 29, 2007

Destination Mars

Yesterday, NASA released information about a manned trip to Mars in 2031. Although much of the information will surely change before the mission actually begins, this BBC News article contains interesting information about the planned mission.

Some of the key points are:

  • The mission will last 30 months, including 16 on Mars

  • Cargo and living quarters will be sent separately, and a few years ahead of time

  • The shuttle will be powered by 3 or 4 Ares V rockets fueled by cryogenic fuel

  • The astronauts will be supported by a closed-loop habitat system which will recycle their air and water and allow fruits and vegetables to be grown on-board

  • The mission will cost anywhere between 20 and 450 billion dollars
Overall, this is very exciting news. Few will deny that space exploration is important to our future, though many doubt anything useful will come of it. To me, the chance of being able to habitat elsewhere in the solar system is worth the extreme cost. Even if such a mission is a complete failure, there will be many useful technological advancements that will spawn from the investment.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Growing up, I was always enthralled by the perpetual motion machine paradox. It's one of those things that just nags at you, convincing you that there must be a way. In my mind I always envisioned a perpetual motion machine that was designed similar to a Christmas Carousel, except instead of powered by the heat from candles, powered by magnets below and on the turbine blades angled to repel. In actuality, this would not be considered a true perpetual motion machine, as the magnets create an electromagnetic field, which would be an external energy force powering the perpetual machine. Eventually, I figured this out and my dreams of winning the Nobel Prize in Physics was shattered. Yet, an article on Inhabitat reminded me of my childhood scheme.

The MagLev is a giant wind turbine suspended in air by magnets. The beauty of this design (okay, so its massive size probably bashes all hope of beauty) is that very little friction slows its spinning. Really, it is only susceptible to air drag, the same friction which causes it to move. Because of its low drag, it starts spinning at low wind speeds, it can withstand high wind speeds, it is very efficient for a wind turbine, and has very low maintenance costs. As a matter of fact, the company behind it claims that it should provide power at the cost of one cent per kilowatt hour. This is incredibly cheap, considering the average cost of coal energy per kilowatt hour is 1.75 cents [Source] (so widely used for energy because of its abundance and cheapness), and the average cost per kilowatt hour of modern wind turbines is around 5 cents [Source]. Another one of the huge benefits of the MagLev is that it takes up very little real estate compared to a wind farm of conventional wind turbines large enough to produce the same amount of power.

Although their cost is huge, $53 million, such a wonderful device could change the state of green energy. I would much rather look at one of these on the horizon than smog.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Road

It's not often that I will pick up a book with Oprah Winfrey's seal of approval on it. Regardless, I hurried to the library in which I volunteer to pick up Cormac McCarthy's The Road as soon as a friend described it to me. It's always hard for me to judge something as the best, or my favorite. I would be hard pressed to deny this book of either of those titles.

The Road is a haunting tale of a father and son traveling south in a world that no longer lives. Almost all humans and every other living thing in the world is dead; the world is a desolate and ash-covered wasteland. The son's innocence and the father's anguish is almost too much to bear in contrast to their sterile surroundings. The story is told in short vignettes comprised of elegant prose. The suspense created by the duo dodging cannibalistic survivors, and their own hunt for nourishment makes the novel read almost too quickly. I will leave you with one of my favorite lines from the book.

"Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."

Friday, November 9, 2007

I am a TWIS-Minion

I decided that my first Science post should promote my favorite source of sciency-goodness. This Week in Science is one of my favorite podcasts; I make sure I listen to it every week. TWIS is a show on KDVS (8:30-9:30am Tuesday, on 90.3FM for anyone in the area and interested), the radio station of the University of California, Davis. It is hosted by the brilliant Dr. Kirsten Sanford, and the master of alliteration, Justin Jackson. Together they create a formidable team; Kirsten with her deep knowledge of science, and Justin with his witty spin on topics.

Every week, Kirsten and Justin discuss the latest news in all science fields. They often have top scientists in their respective fields as guest speakers. More recently they added a segment called the Weird in Washington, where Dr. Michael Stebbins explains some of the more controversial developments in D.C. which may impact science research or the environment. The also play stories submitted by their listener-base, called TWIStributions, and generally have a good time.

Anyone who is thrilled by advances in science should tune in to this podcast. It's informative, entertaining, and at times very humorous. I look forward to every second squeezed between Justin's disclaimer and Kirsten signing off with: "It's all in your head" on my walk to work Wednesday mornings. It's certainly better than the beat of my feet.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

MESDA's 15th Annual Conference

MESDA’s 15th annual conference began with an announcement that MESDA is being renamed techMaine as it now encompasses more than just software development. Another interesting note from the opening remarks was MESDA’s placement in Google searches, such as being the second result when searching “technology events” (in actuality it is the first result as the one before is a sponsored link).

The Keynote speech was given by Frederick Hayes-Roth, former Chief Technology Officer of Hewlett-Packard. The Keynote was entitled: “Getting Ahead of the Avalanche.” It discussed the rapid growth of information technology and how more intelligent techniques of filtering will be needed to parse relevant and material information out of the avalanche of incoming data. Some relevant and material information from the Keynote was:

  • Due to Moore’s Law, by 2040 a person will be able to purchase a computer with the processing power that exceeds the combined processing power of all human brains for a cost of $1000. But, how will that be useful to an individual?

  • The cost of putting information on the Web per bit is approaching $0.00; communication is becoming free despite service provider’s resistance.

  • It is impossible for an individual to absorb all relevant and material information.

  • Bits only have value when they meet the user’s needs and expectations. A user-centric, value delivery system is needed; which was dubbed “Me-centric.” Some current examples are iTunes, TiVO, Yahoo! Alerts, RSS feeds, GPS, ONGMAP.

  • The difference between Pull and Push methods of accessing information. Pull is actively searching for information, such as using a search engine. Push is when you set your preferences and relevant information is delivered to you. Push is more effective by a factor of 5.

  • In Q&A, one issue that came up with the concept of an intelligent system for filtering incoming data is the potential for privacy issues. If content providers are aware of how people are filtering their incoming data, what is preventing them from taking advantage of that information?

Rick Hayes-Roth was an excellent speaker and a seemingly brilliant man. His presentation was clear, relevant, and sprinkled with humor and personal stories. It was worth attending the conference for the Keynote alone, not to mention the opportunity to network with some of top IT professionals in Maine and the other excellent presentations given throughout the day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is the Gphone dead, or converted into an Android?

Technophiles alike gathered online yesterday at noon to receive word on the conference call put forth by Google and others about the upcoming, open source, mobile-device operating system, Android. Personally, I hung out on Engadget, refreshing their "live" feed from the conference call.

One thing that was made clear during the conference call is that there was no Gphone in development. It had been rumored for months that Google was developing a phone to compete with Apple's iPhone. The average speculation was that the hardware would be built by a third-party, the software would be developed by Google and comprise of their many online applications, and that the service would be ad-based resulting in a low cost or an all together free device.

Well, now that the Gphone rumor has been squashed, what will this Android do for you? Android is the operating system and bundle of software that Google has been developing for mobile devices. It is linux-based and open source. Most open source software is protected by the GNU General Public License (GPL). The purpose of this license is to keep any free software free. To clarify, a common phrase in open source is "free as in speech, not as in beer." Free software's code is available to anyone and allows them alter it and redistribute it in any manner they wish, which includes selling it even if the originating code was acquired for free (as in beer). The catch is that you must allow the same rights which you were given, meaning the next person has free (as in speech) access to your code and can distribute it.

I am among the camp that believes this open handset concept will bring great change to the mobile device arena. For an idea of the kind of applications and gadgets that Android will bring to handsets, take a look at: Gmail, Google Maps, Google Documents, YouTube, and iGoogle, as they will all most likely be a part of the software bundle. Then, on top of that add Open Social and it's ability to interface with most social networks, and the possibility of Google winning the 700MHz spectrum auction, and you've got a powerful combination. All of this will be available to any freelance application developer, cellphone manufacturers, and cellphone service providers.

Oh, and Google claims that Android will not be ad-based.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Sword and Laser

What better way to begin my own journey in the blogasphere then by pointing out a blog which supports an online book club started by the personalities from one of my favorite podcasts, CNET's Buzz Out Loud (how's that for mashing technologies?). As the point of this blog is to express my outlook on news and information in the literature, technology and science circles, it is only fitting that my first post is a mash of literature and technology (you might even be able to squeeze science into that mash, when considering Science Fiction books).

The Sword and Laser is an online book club dedicated to Fantasy and Sci-Fi books, with the intended audience of nerds. Being an avid reader of Fantasy, as well as a nerd, the potential for this site excites me. I'm glad that I discovered it early (thanks to this week's episode of TWiT, which included Veronica Belmont of Mahalo and formerly of Buzz Out Loud), and I am looking forward to catching up the first book being discussed: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman.

For those who are interested in joining this interesting club as well, I thought I might list a few possible ways of purchasing The Golden Compass.

  • The entire trilogy His Dark Materials can be purchased from for $13.50, which happens to be less than any of the used prices for the same.

  • It can be purchased in audio format through for $25.90, or it can be purchased with one of your two credits with a monthly subscription for $11.47 a month, or it can be your freebie with the TWiT free trial.

  • It can also be purchased cheaply from ebay.

I may go with the freebie from Audible and TWiT. However I purchase it, I look forward to catching up with the book club and discussing The Golden Compass with my fellow nerds.