Thursday, February 14, 2008

London not swinging for gas guzzlers

The city of London has taken another step in declogging streets and cleaning up air in the center of town.

Mayor Ken Livingstone announced on Tuesday that the "congestion fee" for big-engined gas guzzlers and greenhouse gassers will rise to £25 ($50), while fees for vehicles producing less than 120g/km of CO2 will be removed altogether. Cars and trucks which make an intermediate contribution to global warming will continue to pay £8 ($16.)

The higher charges are aimed principally at wealthy Londoners for whom 16 bucks isn't enough to deter them from driving their Urban Assault Vehicles into town, and is expected to affect about 17% of vehicles coming into the city center. It won't actually go into effect until October 26, presumably to give Ferrari owners time to save their pennies so that they can afford to drive downtown.

The move is a modification to the existing congestion fee launched in 2003, which imposes a charge on most vehicles entering central London. The scheme has gotten mixed reviews over the last 5 years and remains controversial, although popular with environmentalists. Other cities dealing with severe traffic problems, including New York, have proposed or implemented similar models.

New Barrett Round

New sniper rifle round that goes 1.5 miles.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Disney Takes Another Stab at the House of the Future

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Wednesday February 13, @01:53PM
from the near-future-this-time dept.
Disney has announced that they are going to take another stab at showing us the "House of the Future". The 5000-square-foot house will appear normal from the outside but will house gadgets like lights and thermostats that automatically adjust when someone enters the room and countertops that can identify food placed on it and suggest recipes. "Millions of Disneyland visitors lined up a half-century ago to catch a glimpse of the future: a home teeming with mind-blowing gadgets such as handsfree phones, wall-sized televisions, plastic chairs, and electric razors and toothbrushes. [...] The $15 million home is a collaboration of The Walt Disney Co., Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., software maker LifeWare and homebuilder Taylor Morrison. Visitors will experience the look of tomorrow by watching Disney actors playing a family of four preparing for a trip to China."

Spore Hands-On Preview

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Wednesday February 13, @12:27PM
from the frothing-at-the-mouth dept.
cardjoe writes "The release date for Spore has just been announced and what better way to celebrate than to check out the latest build of the game? That's just what did, spending hours with the full version of the game. The article covers all the different editors and stages in the game as well as providing a brief on the pollinated content and how it may well introduce an entire new genre to PC gaming — that of the Massively Online Singleplayer. The article is in-depth and has a whole load of brand new screenshots too, showing the various stages that the player will go through as they play the game and move their creature from single cells to galaxy-hopping space freaks."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Keeping China cool heating up rest of planet

The overheating Chinese economy isn't just a cliche for lazy business reporters anymore, but a very literal problem with real environmental consequences.

Forbes reports that as the capitalist boom in China creates wealth, millions of people are looking to buy luxuries that until recently would have been unaffordable - like air conditioners. More than 20 million new air conditioning units are now being sold each year, which is good news if you're suffering through a Shanghai summer, but not so positive for the environment.

There are two principal problems, of which the first is the fact that air conditioning systems are often real electricity pigs. China is growing so rapidly that it's already having trouble keeping the lights on, and because it gets some 78% of its power from coal-fired plants, any additional drain on the grid is like hitting the global warming turbo switch.

The second issue is the refrigerants used in air conditioners. For years most units used chlorofluorocarbons, believed to be destructive to the ozone layer, but in 1987, 191 countries signed the Montreal protocol, agreeing to phase out CFCs by 2010. China is not a signatory to the protocol, however, and a third of the 30 million air conditioners manufactured there still cool using CFCs.

The good news is that the Chinese government is taking steps to impose energy efficiency standards around air conditioning units, and also moving towards phasing out CFCs. The not-so-good news? There are about a billion people in India who'd probably also like to be air conditioned...

Wal-Mart gets dirt cheap on digital-to-analog TV converters

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers -- you're about to get a sweet deal on a digital-to-analog TV converter box. According to an excited press release from the company, your local stores are now stocked from floor to ceiling with an ultra-cheap Magnavox converter, selling for the shockingly low price of $49.87. Of course, since households across the US are about to get those succulent $40 coupons for converters, this little puppy won't cost much more than about two gallons of gas. We kid, we kid. But seriously, they're pretty cheap.

The Grammy In Mathematics

Posted by kdawson on Monday February 11, @08:01AM
from the woodie-rides-again dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A mathematician will receive a Grammy award for restoring the only known recording of a live Woody Guthrie performance — a bootleg someone made in 1949 using a wire recorder. Guthrie's daughter, who had never heard her father perform in front of a live audience, oversaw the restoration. The article links very cool before and after clips."

Knee Brace Generates Electricity From Walking

Posted by Soulskill on Sunday February 10, @11:03AM
from the runs-on-walks dept.
ktulus cry brings news of a device that can power portable gadgets, prosthetic joints, and other mobile appliances by harvesting energy generated by walking. Researchers are working on making the device — still a moderately cumbersome 3.5 pounds — smaller while maintaining its energy harvesting capacity. CNet has a write-up with more pictures and a diagram of the device. "In the mode in which the brace is only activated while the knee is braking, the subjects required less than one watt of extra metabolic power for each watt of electricity they generated. A typical hand-crank generator, for comparison, takes an average of 6.4 watts of metabolic power to generate one watt of electricity because of inefficiencies of muscles and generators. A lighter version would be helpful to hikers or soldiers who don't have easy access to electricity. And the scientists say similar mechanisms could be built into prosthetic knees other implantable devices such as pacemakers or neurotransmitters that today require a battery, and periodic surgery to replace that battery."

Green by the Numbers: Happiest place on earth living green island dream

Based on a happiness index, Danes are the happiest people on the planet. The happiest people on the planet can also claim the greenest place on earth.

The living green island Samso off the coast of Denmark achieved the distinction of being the world's first carbon neutral renewable energy island because the nearly 4,300 residents made it a goal.

  • 100 percent of the Samso's residents electricity needs are supplied by a combination of land and offshore wind turbines with surplus energy sold the mainland of Denmark.
  • 75 percent of heating needs are met with solar panels, heat pumps and biomass fuel.
  • Vehicles are run on locally-grown rapeseed converted by a rapeseed press into a rapeseed oil fuel.

The success of reaching such an ambitious goal might be more than enough to inspire feelings of personal and communal happiness, but it might be the people of Denmark are the happiest due to a number of factors that not only lead to happiness but are good for the environment as well.

For example, Denmark is considered a post consumerist society where shopping is not a priority. Danes do not seem to be afflicted by affluence or measuring personal worth by goods owned. While most Danes can afford to buy a car, they choose non-status symbol bicycles as a means of transportation. Curious where the US ranks in terms of happiness? According to the happiness map, there are 22 happier places in the world to live. The US ranks 23rd.

Antarctic Expedition To Track Down Extreme Living Creatures

Posted by Soulskill on Sunday February 10, @12:06PM
from the don't-forget-your-swimsuit dept.
WirePosted tips us to a story about a group of scientists who are heading to Antarctica to study organisms that thrive in climates too extreme for most other life forms. The team will be visiting a lake that has a pH "like strong Clorox," the sediments of which "produce more methane than any other natural body of water on our planet." The scientists hope to learn about the potential for life in other unforgiving climates, such as those on Mars or the various ice-covered moons in the Solar System. Expedition leader Richard Hoover was quoted saying, "This will help us decide where to search for life on other planets and how to recognize alien life if we actually find it." We've previously discussed Antarctic microbes as they related to conditions on Mars.

Nanowires of Unlimited Length

Posted by kdawson on Monday February 11, @01:43AM
from the eat-your-heart-out-spiderman dept.
StCredZero writes with word of a research team from the University of Illinois who have developed a way to manufacture nanowires of any length from various materials. Not, unfortunately, carbon nanotubes, or we would be looking for news on space elevators soon. The process is analogous to drawing with a fountain pen — as liquid is drawn from a reservoir, a solvent (water or an organic) evaporates and the solute precipitates onto a substrate. The researchers have demonstrated a way to spin and wind a nanowire onto a spool; they have produced a coil of microfiber 850 nm in diameter and 40 cm long. Here's the abstract from the journal Advanced Materials.