Thursday, March 20, 2008

The nuclear bottleneck

Of all the emissions-lowering options available in the world of energy generation, it seems that nuclear is clearly the popular and practical favorite. The Bush administration, along with this year's presidential hopefuls have all expressed interest in pursuing nuclear energy as a way of lowering US greenhouse emissions. And while there is a pretty impressive wave of enthusiasm behind building more nuclear power plants, it turns out that there's a pretty big hang-up in their plans to clean the air, and it's not coming from Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.

As it turns out, no matter how much harumphing gets done in Congress, there is only one company in the world that forges the $350M dollar reactor cores -- and, as Bloomberg reports, they're turning them out at a speed of 4 per year. Ingots, as the giant steel cores are called, are only produced by Japan Steel Works Ltd., consequently an old samurai sword producer. The CEO maintains that their closest competition is still 5 years away from matching their technology. Oops.

Representatives at JSW worry about this new resurgence in the popularity of nuclear power, saying that their capacity is not set to meet the new demand. Congress has already earmarked $18.5 billion for nuclear loan guarantees, but there's really no clear picture of how fast this money can be spent with the current bottleneck of nuclear reactor cores. According to Earth2Tech, developers are laying out deposits as big as $100M for projects as far out as 2015.

Molecular Basis for Life Found on Extrasolar Planet

Posted by Zonk on Thursday March 20, @01:24PM
from the i-wonder-if-they-get-the-internet-in-space dept.
DarkProphet writes "NASA scientists have discovered the first evidence of organic molecules on an extrasolar planet. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, they detected trace amounts of methane on a swirling gas giant about 63 light-years from our own planet. Being a gas giant, there's almost no chance this discovery represents extrasolar life. A unique find, just the same. 'HD 189733b, a so-called "hot Jupiter," located 63 light years away, has proven a boon for scientists studying exoplanets. Its large size and proximity to its star mean that it dims the star's light more than any other known exoplanet. Combine that with its home star's high brightness, and scientists find that the system creates the best viewing conditions of any known extrasolar system. At different wavelengths, every atom and molecule has its own telltale footprint, so scientists can convert what are known as absorption spectra into the chemical composition of the object they're looking at.'"

Airlines feel the pinch of high gas prices

After a 30% hike in the price of gas over the last 6 weeks, airlines are all coming to the startling realization that their business model must change -- and change fast -- if they wish to prevent some major shortfalls. Jet fuel is trading as high as $3.15 a gallon this year, as opposed to $2.17 last year. Airline companies from Delta to JetBlue are each trying to adjust to the new normal by slowing growth, getting rid of less-efficient jets, and cutting back on scheduled flights. Hopefully, this means no more flights Chicago to London with only 5 passengers on board.

If there's a silver lining in the dramatic jump in fuel prices, it's the fact that older, dirtier jets will be sold or retired from service, helping to lower the emissions that the airline industry has been taking heat for. Continental is set to retire 63 old jets, replacing them with more efficient jets from Boeing in 2009. Here are some measures that the other major carriers are taking, from the article:

Delta will dump 15-20 older, less efficient mainline jets, plus 20-25 regional jets. The change will result in a 10% reduction in Delta's domestic flying capacity by year's end. It also will eliminate at least 2,000 jobs.

United will remove 10-15 older mainline jets to partially offset fuel costs that could swell $1.2 billion more than planned this year.

United has led in raising fares to offset rising fuel prices. But CFO Jake Brace warned that the industry likely won't be able to raise fares enough to fully cover higher costs.

JetBlue will sell four more Airbus A320s, on top of the six it previously announced that it would sell. In total, 10 A320s will leave the fleet by early 2009.

US Airways will fly three fewer planes during the second half of the year than previously expected and could cut back further, President Scott Kirby said. But he added that despite tough fuel prices "remarkably, the (travel) demand environment remains pretty strong."

How To Communicate Science to a Polarized US Audience

Posted by Zonk on Thursday March 20, @12:05PM
from the i-suggest-using-small-words dept.
Prescott writes "Given the divisions in the US around subjects like evolution and climate change, scientists face challenges in how to communicate good science to a polarized US public. Speakers at the recent AAAS meeting talked about how scientific information is delivered to and understood by a public that interprets it via personal beliefs, religious and otherwise. 'The talks were organized by Matthew Nisbet, a professor of communications who is a proponent of the framing of science, in which communications techniques borrowed from the political realm are applied to promote scientific understanding. As such, a number of speakers advocated specific frames for publicly controversial scientific issues. Unfortunately, the use of those frames appears likely to generate controversy within the scientific community, and several speakers noted that science faces challenges that go well beyond communicating knowledge to the public. There were some hints of a way forward that might work for both the scientific community and the public, but the challenges appear significant.'"

Comparing the RIAA To "The Sopranos"

Posted by Zonk on Thursday March 20, @12:40PM
from the riaa-would-make-terrible-television-though dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "According to commentator Therese Polletti at Dow Jones MarketWatch, 'the RIAA's tactics are nearly as bad as the actions of mobsters, real or fictional. The analogy comes up easily and frequently in any discussion of the RIAA's maneuvers.' Among other things she cites the extortionate nature of their 'settlement negotiations' pointed out by Prof. Bob Talbot of the University of San Francisco School of Law IP Law Clinic. His student attorneys are helping private practitioners fight the RIAA, and the the illegality of the RIAA's use of unlicensed investigators. She goes on to cite the fact that the RIAA thinks nothing of jeopardizing a student's college education in order to make their point, as support for the MAFIAA/Mafia analogy."

10 Cleanest cities in America

Is your city a sparkling, fresh, oasis of urban bliss, or a dire, dingy example of unwashed urban decay? If it's the latter, it might be time for a change of scenery. And, while you might think a trip to one of America's 50 greenest cities would be in order, a new study shows that the greenest aren't necessarily the cleanest.

Thanks to smog-busting weather, and some significant investment in beatification efforts, four cities in Florida made it into the top 10 -- Jacksonville, Tamp-St.Petersburg, Orlando, and Miami (which took the number one spot). Here's the full list:

Planet Green: Bill Nye reports for duty

When the green living channel goes live in June, it will be pulling out all the stops in order to establish itself as televised face of the green movement. In an announcement this week, Planet Green confirmed that it's programming will feature shows hosted by top-notch talents like the illustrious Bill Nye and a kitchen expert Emeril Lagasse. PG also announced that in November it will be showing the TV premiere of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth which, if nothing else, should score some pretty good ratings and brownie points for the young network.

Let's just hope that Bill Nye's show will be patterned after the classic Bill Nye the Science Guy. If he could show us simple household ways to do green experiments, crack some corny jokes, and then wrap up with a clever song parody reviewing what we've learned, I think they've got a hit show. Noticeably absent from PG's lineup is Professor Beakman of Beakman's World -- you've got to respect the originator.

Gen Y Workers Reinventing IT for the Better

Posted by Zonk on Thursday March 20, @11:20AM
from the worse-or-better dept.
buzzardsbay writes "We all know the complaints about young employees. They depend too much on their parents' money, they need constant hand-holding, they have no job loyalty, they demand more than they're worth, they disrespect older employees, and they're naive about corporate culture. But despite this conventional wisdom, there's growing evidence that the different working styles of Gen Y workers might be causing fundamental — and beneficial — changes in the way enterprises run, especially when it comes to IT. For example, they may show better judgment when making tech purchases and are often better with green IT initiatives This is a nice counterpoint to a previous story (and resulting incendiary comments) that dubbed young tech workers a risk to corporate networks."

Cyborg insects survive to adulthood, ensure our doom

Remember those cyborg insects that seemed so much like a pipe dream just two short years ago? Yeah, those frackin' things have somehow survived into adulthood, and are closing in on being ready to infiltrate enemy camps and extract vital information. According to a recent update on the DARPA project, the insects -- which have "modified body structures and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) embedded" within -- have lasted into adulthood, and now those behind the endeavor are hoping to enable remote control of the bugs via "mechano-sensor activation" or something similar. Additionally, scientists are hoping to harness the energy emitted during locomotion to actually power the internal MEMS. Sure, as long as these critters can be swatted down with a newspaper, we're solid, but we aren't too sure we dig where this could be headed.

[Via Wired]

Car idling is an nasty habit...

How many of you let your car idle while waiting for your morning cup 'o joe from the drive-thru window, waiting for your kids to get in the car after school, or waiting for the construction peeps to let you pass? Apparently, most of us will spend on average a total of fifteen minutes per day letting our cars idle and waste gas (not to mention our money) instead of shutting the car off. I've been known to let my car warm-up a bit for a few minutes on a winter morning before driving it -- but no more! By parking and walking into the places we normally drive-thru, turning your car off when waiting for someone or walking to pick up the kids we could each save $100 a year in fuel costs (over 2 billion gallons of fuel as a nation) and save the earth from further pollution. Amazingly, an idling car creates twice the emissions of a running auto. Below are a couple of other resources if you are looking for more info:

Samsung's Hauzen Cleaning Robot keeps floors, homeowners happy

Samsung's no stranger to automated floor sucking creatures, but the latest from the outfit is looking to give your Roomba a real run for its money. The Hauzen VC-RE70V sports a fairly attractive shell along with a built-in camera to "see" where it's going; better still, it can reportedly snap pictures of rooms as it goes in order to build a map of your domicile in its "brain" and keep things quick on subsequent cleanings. Just like your Automower, this thing will also automatically move to its recharging station when it feels weak, giving you one less reason to even roll out of bed the day the in-laws are set to arrive.

[Via I4U News]

Scientists concoct material that superconducts at room temperature

While the temperature at which superconduction has occurred has been steadily rising throughout history, a potential breakthrough could open up a whole new world of possibilities in the computing realm. Reportedly, a pair of mad scientists from Canada and Germany have developed a silicon-hydrogen compound that can superconduct at room temperature. The secret, they say, is that the silane-based matter is "super-compressed," and they were able to achieve such compression by "adding hydrogen to a compound with silicon that reduced the amount of compression needed to achieve superconductivity." Granted, the work done so far was classified as "theoretical," but hopefully it won't be long (read: during our lifetime would be nice) before such technology finds its way into gaming rigs (among other things) the world over.

[Via Slashdot]

5 ways the combustion engine is getting better

You might be thinking that in 5 years, most cars on the road will be powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells. As much as most of us would like to see this kind of change happen, Forbes magazine is predicting that the motor of the future is the one that's already under your hood. As far as they're concerned, the combustion engine isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that automakers are finding ways to make the old-school engine way cleaner and more energy efficient. New technologies are being tested and put into use right now that will translate into significant gains in fuel economy and reduced emissions in the near future. Here are five of the ways that science is squeezing more juice out of your fossil fuel burner:

  • Cylinder/Motor Shutdown -- Manufacturers like GM, Chrysler and Honda are all producing engines that deactivate 2 or more cylinders when they're not needed. Likewise, start/stop technology -- where an engine shuts down when the vehicle is idling and restarts immediately for use -- is integral to most hybrids and will soon be finding its way into conventional motors.
  • Direct Injection -- By getting rid of the clunky fuel injection systems of yesteryear, researchers are finding that engines can achieve both better fuel economy -- some claim up to 20% better -- and a more complete burning of fuel, read lower emissions.
  • Smaller Engines -- You're not likely to see too many V8s in the future, but you might not lose that much power either. Smaller engines can be supercharged to get more power, while they also leave room for a more aerodynamic body design.
  • Switching to Diesel -- Diesel sedans have natural advantages in the areas of durability and fuel economy, but the trouble has always been emissions. Now, companies like Mercedes and Audi are releasing 'clean diesels' that neutralize the heavy exhaust that is associated with diesel.
  • Lighter is Better -- In terms of an engine's actual weight, and the components which the engine operates, automakers are finding ways to lighten the load. Automakers are making significant gains by simply using lighter materials and taking stress off the engine by using electric-powered components.
Related Link

Huge woodburning stove to power Scottish homes

Ok, not exactly a stove, but a powerplant that operates entirely on forestry waste. The Steven's Croft Power Station near Lockerbie, Scotland, was officially opened this week, becoming the the largest wood-fired power station in the UK.

Because Scotland engages in sustainable management of its forests it has ample wood waste, which until now had been largely, um, wasted. However, the new plant will use that residue as well as "specially grown willow" to generate 44MW of electricity - enough to power some 70,000 homes.

Woodburning is also a surprisingly clean form of power generation, and according to the govenment will save up to 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually (although the press release doesn't say compared to what.) The plant has the added advantage of making the surrounding area smell as festive as a roaring fire on Christmas Eve.

Burning biomass - in this case what's called "woody biomass" - is part of the Scottish government's plan to generate at least half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.

Related Link

Stanford researchers cram 12,616 tiny lenses into a 3D camera

With the megapixel race already past the point of noticeable benefit to consumers, it looks like the next camera arms race will be the number of lenses your rig sports -- a team at Stanford is working on a 3D camera that uses 12,616 micro-lenses to generate high quality 3 megapixel images with self-contained "depth maps" that measure the distance to every object in the frame. The system works by focusing each lens above four different overlapping sensor arrays, which work in concert to determine depth -- just like your eyes. Unlike similar systems, the Stanford rig is able to use that data to create a depth map without lasers, prisms, or even complex calibration, which will allow the team to shrink the tech down to compact and cellphone camera size. Once it's ubiquitous, the teams says depth map information can be used to do anything from enhancing facial recognition systems to improving robot vision, but there's still a long way to go -- the team has just started trying to work out how to manufacture the system.

Silent Microchip 'Fan' Has No Moving Parts

Posted by samzenpus on Wednesday March 19, @08:20PM
from the cool-off dept.
Stony Stevenson writes "Researchers in the US have developed a microchip fan with no moving parts that operates silently and generates enough wind to cool a laptop computer. The solid-state fan, developed with support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), is touted as the most powerful and energy efficient fan of its size. The device produces three times the flow rate of a typical small mechanical fan and is one-fourth the size. The technology has the power to cool a 25W chip with a device smaller than one cubic-cm and can someday be integrated into silicon to make self-cooling chips, according to the researchers."

Stanford Team Developing Super 3D Camera

Posted by samzenpus on Wednesday March 19, @11:15PM
from the worth-a-thousand-words-cubed dept.
Tookis writes "Most of us are happy to take 2D happy snaps with single lens digital cameras. Imagine if you had a digital camera that could more accurately perceive the distance of all objects in its field of vision than your own eyes and brain. That's exactly what a team of researchers from Stanford University are working on — and it could even be affordable for ordinary consumers."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blue Lights to Reset Internal Clocks

Posted by samzenpus on Thursday March 20, @02:28AM
from the you-can-sleep-when-you-are-dead dept.
holy_calamity writes "Researchers at RPI are testing the effects of putting blue LEDs inside cars to keep drivers alert. People driving through the night are much more likely to cause accidents because our circadian rhythms just want to sleep — blue light at around 450nm wavelength can fool them into thinking its morning and keep us awake."

Corn-based ethanol could smother the Gulf

In the race to find alternative fuels for transportation and energy, it's becoming ever more clear that biofuels, -- especially corn-based ethanol -- could have a wide range of unintended side effects. Aside from the argument that the production of biofuel uses more energy than it creates, scientists have discovered yet another environmental hazard created by farming for fuel; the rapid expansion of the Gulf's "Dead Zone."

The 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico is thought to be caused by agricultural pollution, i.e. nitrogen fertilizer, that is carried by the Mississippi and then dumped into the ocean. While fertilizer doesn't seem like the biggest environmental threat to the ocean, it results in a pretty nasty suffocating condition called hypoxia. Phytoplankton thrive on this fertilizer and bloom like crazy in waters where it's in high concentration. The problem comes when they start to die and sink to the bottom -- their decomposing bodies literally suck oxygen out of the water.

All the excitement over biofuels in the last few years has caused a major spike in corn production -- and it just so happens that of all the staple crops in the US, corn is the one that requires the most watering and fertilizer. When you mix heavy irrigation and tons of nitrogenous fertilizer, you get major runoff.

In the past, farmers were encouraged to rotate their fields between corn and soybeans -- a lower maintenance crop -- checking the amount of runoff and thus regulating the size of the dead zone. Now that the market for ethanol is blowing up, groups like the EPA are getting really worried about the possibility that corn will be in heavy rotation up and down the Mississippi Basin.
Related Link

Oysters: Sexy and recyclable

Oysters are a known aphrodisiac although I'm not sure how they attained this status. I personally have yet to see anyone look attractive eating raw mollusks but to each their own. Environmentalists aren't after the slimy innards either. They prefer the shell.

Oyster populations are depleting and coastal states have started sinking batches of empty oyster shells back into the water to grow new beds. Once the shells are in the water, they provide homes for many organisms, including oyster larvae. North Carolina is the front runner in oyster recycling with several oyster shell drop off sites and legislation making it illegal to throw them away.

Oysters not only make for pricey appetizers but they also filter up to fifty gallons of water a day, keeping waterways clean which is one reason why oyster beds are being encouraged outside of waste water treatment plants as far north as New York City. These particular critters won't end up on your plate, however.
Related Link

Timberland tells you how much carbon is in your footprint

Ok, fashionistas, it just got a little easier to green up. Footwear and clothing maker Timberland has begun putting labels on some of its products which indicate how much carbon was emitted in its manufacture.

Carbon scores range from 1 to 10, with 1 being absolutely Gore-worthy and 10 the sartorial equivalent of a coal-powered Hummer. Currently Timberland is labelling about 60 types of boots and shoes, but plans to expand the practice to all its products by 2010.

On a related note, rapper/producer/composer Timbaland declined to comment on his carbon footprint, but did note that he was "well-equipped."

Related Link

Pleasing Google's Tech-Savvy Staff

Posted by CmdrTaco on Wednesday March 19, @10:54AM
from the nobody-even-tries-to-please-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Douglas Merrill, Google Inc.'s chief information officer, is charged with answering that question. His job is to give Google workers the technology they need, and to keep them safe — without imposing too many restrictions on how they do their job. So the 37-year-old has taken an unorthodox approach. Unlike many IT departments that try to control the technology their workers use, Mr. Merrill's group lets Google employees download software on their own, choose between several types of computers and operating systems, and use internal software built by the company's engineers. Lately, he has also spent time evangelizing to outside clients about Google's own enterprise-software products — such as Google Apps, an enterprise version of Google's Web-based services including e-mail, word processing and a calendar."

The Real Body Snatchers

Posted by CmdrTaco on Wednesday March 19, @09:25AM
from the something-macabre-for-your-morning dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The BBC are reporting on a grisly trade lying behind the booming business for replacement body parts in medical procedures. Many unscrupulous "dealers" will procure body parts from anyone willing to deal them — e.g., undertakers, medics — and will process them for resale onto legitimate companies. Apparently a fully processed cadaver can fetch up to $250,000. Now, who says I'm worth more alive than dead?"

New BigDog Robot Video

Posted by kdawson on Wednesday March 19, @03:01AM
from the now-to-work-on-the-muffler dept.
John860 writes "The US company Boston Dynamics has released an amazing new video of its quadruped robot BigDog. The highlight of the video (at 1:24) shows how the robot starts slipping on ice, almost falls several times, but finally regains its balance and continues walking. The video also shows the robot's ability to cope with different types of terrains, climb and descend steep slopes, and jump. Two years ago, the older version of BigDog was already able to climb slopes, keep its balance after a strong kick, and walk on rough terrain like stones, mud, and snow. The new version weighs 235 lbs and can carry a payload of up to 340 lbs, a factor of 4 better than its predecessor."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scientists' Success Or Failure Correlated With Beer

Posted by kdawson on Wednesday March 19, @05:34AM
from the malt-does-more-than-milton-can dept.
mernil sends in an article from the NYTimes that casts a glance at a study done in the Czech Republic (natch) on what divides the successful scientists from the duffers. "Ever since there have been scientists, there have been those who are wildly successful, publishing one well-received paper after another, and those who are not. And since nearly the same time, there have been scholars arguing over what makes the difference. What is it that turns one scientist into more of a Darwin and another into more of a dud? After years of argument over the roles of factors like genius, sex, and dumb luck, a new study shows that something entirely unexpected and considerably sudsier may be at play in determining the success or failure of scientists — beer."

Ewgeco energy monitor aims to curb your consumption habits

It's far from the first energy monitor we've seen, but this new so-called Ewgeco device does look to be one of the more sophisticated offerings so far, with it not only promising to keep tabs on your electricity use, but your water and gas consumption as well. That's apparently done with the aid of sensors that wirelessly transfer readings to the main device, which translates the information into easy to read bars that light up green, red, or amber depending on your level of consumption. Unfortunately, the device is only being sold to businesses at the moment, and it's not exactly plug-and-play either, with one of the company engineers required to install it, and a week needed for the Ewgeco to get used to your normal usage patterns.