looming energy crisis?

These days it is stories like these that keep me awake at night.

Basically: We’ll run out of oil in my lifetime; long before that, it will be expensive, and then rationed. Alternative sources simply can’t fill the gap; we do not have the capability to replace just our electricity needs with renewable energy, never mind our other energy needs. Even if North America switched to nuclear power, we’d run out of fuel in 35-58 years, a mere band-aid for the problem.

Meanwhile, SUVs are the fastest growing market segment in China, and GM is actively marketing them.

I haven’t the faintest idea what we’re going to do about this looming crisis; I do know that our current technique (hiding our heads in the sand) isn’t going to cut it.

posted at 6:38 pm on Friday, August 20, 2004 in Current Events, Science and Technology | Comments (5)
  1. Greg Wilson says:

    When OPEC turned the screws in the 70s, the market responded very quickly. Within five years, German and Japanese compact cars had made significant inroads into the American market, American manufacturers were downsizing their vehicles (as well as their plants) in response, and energy-efficient appliances were coming onto the market. As energy becomes more expensive over the next 20 years, I expect the same market forces will have the same effect. The real question is whether any of our elected leaders will be forward-looking enough to push us that way ahead of the rest of the planet, so that we can sell to them the way the Germans and Japanese sold to us 25 years ago. Reducing income taxes, while increasing sales tax on both fuel and fuel-inefficient machinery (factories and cars in particular) would be a revenue-neutral way to do it…

  2. Jeff K says:

    “Forward-looking” “elected leaders”? Hell, I hope you like horses!

  3. Harry Neff says:

    One statement and 3 responses to this crisis…. That should show us the real apathy around this country on the subject…. When we’re out of reserves, fule is $8+ per gallon and we’re all buying/riding horses or bicycles, maybe the collective will wake up.
    My grandchildren (now 1 – 7) will be left to solve this, I’m afraid.

  4. Jeff K says:

    I think even saying it is our grandchildren may be optimistic. I’ve read a number of books on the subject, and they all think that military might will protect the oil reserves for the western world. Unfortunately, might is not always right, money often trumps, and if China needs fuel to produce goods for the rest of the world, a worthy task, the people paying for the goods coming from China will be driving up their own fuel costs. My guess is that it would be less than 20 years before we’re making serious choices in the west to our personal transportation in order to keep the economy running efficiently because production is in Asia, not here. I’ve met people who said 3 years ago they couldn’t pay $1/L for gas. I often pay close to $1/L now for 94 octane gas… For some people then, the future is now (although, I’ve noticed these same people still buy the gas)

    Anyway, there is risk to any planning. I think the plan should be to estimate the cost and time to electrify suburban & inter-city rail, build the nuclear power-plants to power them, eliminate the tax on diesel fuel and ban the use of diesel in personal autos and ban the use of natural gas in power-plants. Then the plan should sit on a shelf waiting for the crisis to become more obvious to the stupid.

  5. Jeff K says:

    Btw, on Thu or Wed the National Post ran an article about the worsening crisis. Apparently not only do we have to worry about China, but the U.S. may want to reduce its dependance on mid-east oil, thus increasing its desire to buy Canadian oil. I think in the long run that’s fine, but there’s a lot of construction that has to be done before supply can meet demand in that situation, I believe.

Kids Plus Rocks Equals 120,000 Angry Bees

Yuck!

Yahoo! News – Kids Plus Rocks Equals 120,000 Angry Bees

Reminds me of watching The Swarm when I was a kid. Not so amusing is that African “killer” bees are slowly moving north across the USA, and interbreeding with our European honey bees…

posted at 10:02 pm on Monday, August 16, 2004 in Current Events, Science and Technology | Comments Off on Kids Plus Rocks Equals 120,000 Angry Bees

Active Directory

It is very easy to setup a self-contained network, with a Domain Controller, using Active Directory. Too easy, in fact; I’m on my third attempt :-).

I’m using cloned hard disk images under Microsoft Virtual PC, which caused my latest problem; Active Directory let me register a computer in the domain with the same name as the domain controller. Needless to say, nothing worked after that. The reason this happened was because I tried to rename the image and join the domain at the same time; Windows 2000 apparently joins the domain first, then attempts to rename the computer. This surprised me :-)

Fortunately, I had a master disk image, so it was trivial to restart from a fresh install and rebuild the domain controller (which, thanks to Microsoft’s wizards, is easy). But then I had to rebuild the two child domain controllers, since they refused to “demote” themselves when the domain master was unavailable.

Sadly, all of this is time consuming, even when the host is a P4 2.8 with 1Gb of memory and oodles of disk bandwidth…

posted at 9:32 pm on Thursday, August 12, 2004 in Personal, Science and Technology, Security | Comments (1)
  1. Reid says:

    It took me a moment to figure out what you meant by PIV. I thgouht it was some sort of PVC pipe variant for plumbing or something!

    I think P4 is easier to grok.. :)

passwords in the news

I can’t find it now, but I remember reading recently about another “cross-discipline” team that discovered all sorts of interesting things, because each member of the team had a different way of looking at the data. Now a PKI research group has attached a sociologist to the team, and that is starting to produce insight:

A recent survey found that 75 percent of Dartmouth students have shared their network passwords. “They like having people who know their password,” explained Denise Anthony, a sociologist who spoke at the PKI summit conference I attended earlier this month. “They like having someone who can check their e-mail for them or log them in to places where they’re supposed to be.”

Professor Anthony’s talk was dramatically different and showed why it was a really smart move to attach a sociologist to Dartmouth’s PKI research group. As security technologists, we’re easily dazzled by our shiny cryptographic swords. But while we’re brandishing our swords, our users — like Indiana Jones in that famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark — might simply pull out their guns and shoot us. Better security protocols alone can’t thwart such game-changing behavior. We need to understand what motivates the behavior and figure out which carrots and sticks will influence it.

It’s a given that most people take the path of least resistance. So, for example, two-thirds of Dartmouth students never change their passwords during their four years of enrollment. And most reuse their internal passwords for external sites such as The New York Times and Amazon.com. How do they perceive the risk associated with such behavior? According to Anthony, it’s a tragedy of the commons. The network is a collective resource, but people connected to the network feel that they’re consuming a private good. Their subjective view, she says, is this: “I’m in my office. I’m using my computer. It doesn’t feel like I’m part of a group. I don’t recognize how my behavior affects you.”

InfoWorld: Tragedy of the network commons

posted at 9:44 am on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 in Science and Technology, Security | Comments Off on passwords in the news

Long-Distance Bluetooth Hacking

Heh.

People who know radio technology 1
Bluetooth Security optimists 0

Bluetooth proponents have been saying for a long time that Bluetooth security isn’t that big of a deal, because the range is so short. Now a group of enthusiasts has demonstrated that it is possible to setup a 1km, line-of-sight Bluetooth connection by modifying only one side of the connection:

Wi-Fi Toys

posted at 11:58 am on Monday, August 02, 2004 in Science and Technology, Security | Comments Off on Long-Distance Bluetooth Hacking

When Good Discs Go Bad

So they’re finally getting around to testing digital recordable media:

PCWorld.com – Burning Questions: When Good Discs Go Bad

“We’ve found the quality varies, depending upon the type of dye used to make the write-once discs and [on the] the manufacturer,” reports Byers. Even discs from the same manufacturer, with the same brand, can test differently, Byers adds. “But there was more of a significant difference when you compared discs between manufacturers,” he explains.

But this news is even more discouraging:

“One thing we’ve found in compatibility testing [of DVD-R and +R media] is that it’s a relationship between a specific brand of media and the manufacturer of the hardware,” observes Byers. “There was no one drive that played every single type of compatible media, and there was no one media brand that played perfectly in every drive.”

And, he adds, sounding as frustrated as any consumer might, “You can’t say there’s a clear, delineated set of reasons as to why.”

Reminds me of floppy drives, which had alignment issues that could often prevent disks written on one drive from being readable on another.

Tape is still a reliable form of long term storage, but tape drives (and/or tapes!) are still very expensive. I’m beginning to think that the best method of backups these days is a big JBOD or RAID server; hard disks are reliable…

posted at 9:39 am on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on When Good Discs Go Bad

Apple Introduces AirPort Express

Ok, everone else is linking to the new Apple AirPort Express, but I will too because it really is a neat gadget. It’s not just a wireless stereo connection, or a wireless printer connection, or a wireless base station; it’s all three in one. Not only that, but it will also automatically build a mesh network with another Airport Express or Airport Extreme, either to extend the range of your existing wireless, or just to avoid stringing ethernet cables around.

Cool…

posted at 5:03 pm on Sunday, June 13, 2004 in Links, Science and Technology | Comments (1)
  1. Michelle Levesque says:

    Uh oh. Now I want one.

Will ANYTHING new ever work?

ComputerZen.com – Scott Hanselman’s Weblog – Will ANYTHING new ever work?

There is a subtle (as a brick in the face) difference between “It just works” and “I got it to work.”

When I think about it, I realize how much this applies to the things I do on a day-to-day basis. Certainly most things in my life “just work”; cars, telephones (but not cell phones), kitchen stuff, light switches, hot water heater, laundry, furnace, and on and on. (Can you imagine what life would be like if they didn’t?)

And then there are computers (and other bits of computerised technology, like VCRs), where sometimes things “just work”, and sometimes “I got it to work”, and sometimes “I threw it out the window in disgust”. I’m often surprised by items in all three categories; sometimes things I expect will require a hammer and a lot of elbow grease “just work”, and (frustratingly) sometimes the opposite.

Where I work, we try very hard to make software that works, and yet are continually surprised by the bizarre things people do with their configurations before they call and complain. Reliability in the face of unexpected problems with computers and networks is one thing; reliability in the face of determined administrators is another thing entirely.

Anyway, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I’ll stop. Go read Scott’s article; I think it is interesting.

posted at 9:49 am on Sunday, May 30, 2004 in Links, Programming, Science and Technology | Comments Off on Will ANYTHING new ever work?

waterless urinals

I find toilets that flush themselves very annoying. I suppose it’s good when you work with inconsiderate louts that are incapable of flushing for themselves, but my experience with them is that they flush when I don’t want them to, a cold experience…

Automatic faucets, on the other hand, are good; there’s a sanitation advantage, in that you don’t have to touch dirty tap handles with your freshly cleaned hands. They’re much better than the old push-button, temporary flow kind. Those old ones accomplished the goal of saving water, at the expense of convenience.

Anyway, we have yet another new WC innovation: waterless urinals. Even better, it’s a very simple, low maintenance design, with no moving parts…

Falcon WaterFree Technologies | How does it work?

posted at 6:11 pm on Friday, January 23, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on waterless urinals

Eat Less. Exercise More.

Ignore fad diets. Weight loss is a simple concept: Eat Less, Exercise More.

Yahoo! News – Study Tells Overweight Adults to Walk

Participants who got no exercise during the eight-month study gained an average of almost 2.5 pounds. But 73 percent of those who briskly walked 11 miles a week, or about 30 minutes a day, were able to maintain their weight or even lose a few pounds.

The study […] involved 120 overweight or mildly obese adults who were instructed not to diet during the research.

The study confirms that exercise without cutting calories is not the most effective way to lose weight, said Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

But demonstrating that small amounts of exercise alone can prevent weight gain is significant, given the nation’s growing obesity epidemic, Klein said.

It is reassuring to know that if you really are a couch potato, you’re hosed; while even a little exercise (such as lunchtime walks, or the walk to/from commuter transit) can make a difference…

(via Teal Sunglasses)

posted at 12:05 pm on Friday, January 23, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Your weight-watcher’s experience (and now mine — 1 week and going strong) tells us that it’s not quite so cut and dry. I never knew that a double whopper with cheese was more than a day’s supply of food [for some people], and yet a nice small oatmeal breakfast, a 0-point vegetable soup for lunch, diet drinks and a decent amount of a properly prepared stew for dinner, which I’m sure is more mass than the whopper, comes in as a weight-reduction diet. So it’s less, but not food, rather points [I use the word points, because WW uses a formula for fiber+calories+fat to calc. points]. In fact, if I budget my day right, I can still go to a restaurant for dinner. Oh and just as another example, if I like the taste of KFC, I can get it, but I have to drink a diet drink and give the salad to the kids — at least according to the points system. I did not know that I should not go below a certain amount of points in one day either — no crash diets. Can you tell us what your experience with “flex points” was?

Sprit ‘Anomaly’

I think the Martian Planetary Defense Forces sent out the infantry this time:

Scientific American: Mars Rover Stops Sending Data

posted at 3:11 pm on Thursday, January 22, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Sprit ‘Anomaly’

No soap bubbles required

Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | Space station’s mystery leak may be resolved

Space station commander Michael Foale today found a braided flexible hose with an apparent leak in it that may explain the slight loss of air pressure station engineers have been struggling to resolve over the past week.

The hose is part of a system that evacuates air between two of the six panes making up an optically-clear window in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

Once they switched off equipment in the Destiny lab, they could apparently hear the leak…

posted at 2:57 pm on Monday, January 12, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on No soap bubbles required

The ISS

In The Space Station has a leak… Chuq writes:

Can we just admit [ISS] was a complete and absolute mistake, cut our losses, and hope it doesn’t hit someone when it falls out of orbit and lands somewhere? The Space station isn’t a scientific expedition, but a political one, and one aimed more at pork barrel funding than scientific advances.

Sadly, I’m beginning to adopt this opinion myself. ISS-the-dream was really cool; ISS-the-reality, not so much. The program has been cut back too far; there really isn’t much useful science being done, and I suspect much of it could be done more cheaply in other forms. Short duration experiments were working just fine in the Shuttle microgravity missions. Our robotics are getting good enough that many other experiments could be launched in small, un-manned capsules.

I’m just thinking off the top of my head here. I think a manned presence in space is important; but maybe it’s time to separate that from space science, and do each one separately in a slightly more cost-effective manner…

posted at 12:28 pm on Sunday, January 11, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on The ISS

Space Station Leaks

My friend Greg tells me that there is actually a simple way to detect small leaks in space structures. Google tells me that the station even has one: a portable mass spectrometer. This can be used to detect gas leaks with larger holes, but can also be used to detect extremely slow leaks like the one I mentioned earlier As humidified air leaks out, water ice forms on the surface of the station close to the leak; the spectrometer can easily detect that ice, pinpointing the leak.

There’s also a trick: watching the station’s orientation that can be used to detect relatively small leaks (any outgassing will act as a rocket, changing the station’s position in space; by monitoring that position, leaks can be pinpointed).

There are others; google has zillions of links…

posted at 7:40 pm on Thursday, January 08, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Space Station Leaks

ISS Springs a Leak?

In SciScoop || The International Space Station Is Running Out Of Gas, we read that the ISS has experienced a minor air pressure drop (11 mm of mercury, or the equivalent of going from sea level to about 300 ft above (Toronto is about 300 ft above sea level, if I recall correctly).

How does one go about finding a slow leak from the space station? You can’t immerse the whole thing in water and look for bubbles…

posted at 12:02 pm on Tuesday, January 06, 2004 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on ISS Springs a Leak?

Wind Power and Birds

HoustonChronicle.com – Bird deaths causing concern about true value of wind farm

The wind turbine farm in Altamont Pass, CA has killed approximately 22,000 birds over its 20 year lifetime, so two environmental groups want the operator permits for the farm revoked.

Let’s look at these numbers, shall we? 22,000 birds over 7000 turbines is just over 3 birds / turbine, and 0.157… birds/turbine/year. Wow, are those things safe!

The article quotes someone saying that this is “a terrestrial Exxon Valdez every year”. The Exxon Valdez disaster killed an estimated 250,000 birds, including 250 bald eagles. If you only count the bald eagles, I suppose you can force the statistic…

On the other hand:

many more birds are killed annually in collisions with vehicles (60 million), window panes (98 million) and communication towers (4 million) than die nationwide in wind turbines (10,000 to 40,000).

Even the common household cat […] is responsible for more bird deaths than turbines.

None of this takes into account the birds that would have been killed by the pollution generated by a non-wind powerplant producing the same power.

In conclusion: what are these people smoking?

posted at 10:12 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Wind Power and Birds

Trust the Computer?

Yet again, an example of a common phenomenon: if it came from the computer, it must be right.

An interim report on the August 14th, 2003 power outage has been published, and SecurityFocus picked up the story here: Computer trouble had wide impact in Aug. 14 blackout

My eyes gravitated to this quote from the report:

“Unknowingly,” the report continued, “they used the outdated system condition information they did have to discount information from others about growing system problems.”

This not to pick on First Energy; the problem could have (and has) happened to anyone. If someone is calling you and telling you there’s a problem, you should at least investigate, instead of blindly trusting the computer.

As Horatio Cain said on CSI:Miami last night: “Trust, but verify”.

posted at 11:11 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments (2)
  1. a says:

    “Trust, but verify” is a popular quote, usually attributed to Reagan I believe.

  2. Jeff K says:

    I rather like the National Post’s lead-in yesterday “Homer Simpson style chain of errors leads to …”

Lunar Eclipse on Saturday

Hey, there’s a Lunar Eclipse on Saturday November 8th!

All times eastern standard time, for the city of Toronto:

16:54 moon rise
18:32 moon enters earth’s shadow
20:06 totality begins
20:31 totality ends
22:04 moon exits earth’s shadow
07:35 moon set (November 9th)

The current weather forecast is:

Saturday : A mix of sun and cloud. 30 percent chance of morning showers.
Sunday : Cloudy. 40 percent chance of showers.

Excellent; I’ll be at a party, so I won’t have a chance to play with the camera, but I will stick my nose outside to check the moon…

posted at 5:25 pm on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Lunar Eclipse on Saturday

Automotive Blackboxes

Well, it’s happened. According to a CBC news article, a Montreal driver has been convicted of dangerous driving. While there were no witnesses, the car computer recorded his speed at 131 km/h at the time of the crash.

The problem I see is simple: these computers are not designed to record evidence; they’re designed to operate the car airbag system. They’re connected to the vehicle’s sensor network, which can return false or misleading data, and I’m sure the computer is trivial to tamper with, before or after an incident. (In fact, the /. crowd is already discussing the challenge :-). Will the positive uses balance out the potential abuse?

In this case, the blackbox was only used to settle a “he said, she said” type of case. The defendant claimed that the other car was speeding; there were no witnesses and no skid marks on the road. It’s interesting to note that he was cleared of the more serious charge of “criminal negligence causing death”; hopefully the courts/jury decided that computer testimony wasn’t enough for the more serious charge?

The OPP has been using blackbox evidence for a while now, apparently, as have insurance companies. Something to keep on the radar…

posted at 9:41 am on Sunday, October 26, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Automotive Blackboxes

Methane Bubbles Sink Ships

Wired News: It Came From Beneath the Sea

Apparently blocks of sold methane can break off the bottom of the ocean floor, turn into large gas bubbles as they rise, and can sink ships that happen to be above them.

Of course, nobody has ever seen one. Sinister…

posted at 8:12 pm on Friday, October 24, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Methane Bubbles Sink Ships
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