Archive for September, 2007

Pick of the Litter

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Coke on a beach
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t understand why any well-minded human being would ever litter. There is an increasing amount of litter in even the most beautiful areas, such as the beach in my photo. Even with posted fines in the thousands of dollars, there are people littering daily. I did pick up that can and throw it away, but all too often the litter around me is too nasty to even go near.

I have only witnessed a few people in the act of littering, and those I have witnessed fall into two categories. The first was a man who was crazy. He was walking down the street talking to himself, and simply dropped the (empty?) grocery bag he was carrying. I can understand this, because this man clearly had no idea where he was, let alone where the nearest recycling bin was located. The other people I have seen litter were all punk kids, trying to impress their friends. I can understand the urge and so-called coolness of defying authority for the sake of defying authority, but littering is one of those things that is not about authority. It’s about the fricking environment. Under no circumstances is this kind of littering not completely stupid. There must also be innumerable litterers out there who do not fall into any category.

It could be helpful to adopt better recycling programs, like some other countries have, that make it easier for people to recycle. But littering is not caused by lack of recycling. Littering is, in my judgment, an unsolvable problem.

Am I wrong? How to solve it?

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Renewable Fuel Straight Out of Sci-Fi

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

glowing green tubes of bubbling liquid
Professor Pengchen (Patrick) Fu is using cyanobacteria to produce ethanol from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. I got to see this first-hand at Wired NextFest. This is exceedingly cool since ethanol, a useful fuel, burns cleanly to produce energy, carbon dioxide, and water. See the pattern? It’s a sustainable cycle, essentially storing solar energy in a fuel that we already know and love. There is very little waste in this process, and it’s quite harmless, in the form of oxygen and some dead bacteria at the end of their natural life cycles. This is already cool enough that I think I need to sit down for a while and take it all in, but there is more! In case the photo didn’t make things amply evident, let me state clearly: Pengchen (Patrick) Fu has come up with a possible solution for renewable energy using large, glowing cylinders full of bubbling green liquid. These things look like they came straight off the set of a science fiction movie. You know, the good kind, with lots of explosions.

[update]

Some more details: The tubes shown in the pic each yield about 5 grams of ethanol per day. Fu expects improvements to this yield after more research into the process. He also talked about setting up kiloliter-sized tanks of this stuff for larger output.

[speculations]

5 grams of ethanol contains about 134 kilojoules of energy. If we had solar panels instead, assuming about 8 kWh/m^2/day, and 40% efficient solar panels, we would need about 116 square centimeters of solar panel to get the same yield (an 11 cm x 11 cm patch would do). I would estimate that Fu’s process is therefore less than one order of magnitude less efficient than the best solar cells at the moment. That’s not shabby, considering that the energy is stored in a fuel instead of a (costly) battery. Deeper vats of the stuff would mean more sunlight gets absorbed by the cyanobacteria, so the kiloliter tanks would probably have much better efficiency.

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Solar Power with Balls

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

solar balls
Solar panels have long been plagued with lower power output when they are not directly facing the sun. The Kyosemi Corporation is the first company with the balls to tackle this problem. I got to see these first-hand at Wired NextFest.  Basically, if I understand this correctly, the solar cells are actually tiny balls connected with fine wire, which can be embedded in clear plastic shapes, like the half-dome shown in the image. This fits in the palm of your hand, and performs consistently regardless of the angle to the sun. They can also embed large grids of these balls in a transparent flexible sheet, or flexible ribbons, which are as shapable as they are beautiful.

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Testing the Uncanny Valley

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

doppleganger at Wired NextFest
Zou Ren Ti was testing the uncanny valley at Wired NextFest with his robot doppleganger. The real Zou is seated on the left; his robot counterpart on the right. The matching nametags were a nice touch. For the most part, they both sat there, looking around, making similar facial expressions. Only the real Zou entertained questions.

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Chroino at Wired NextFest

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Chroino at Wired NextFest

I got to see Chroino live at Wired NextFest. That’s the male type on the left, and the female type on the right. Chroino can strut, do yoga poses, and kick a ball with quite some grace. The female type does her little turn on the catwalk. They have no exposed wires, weigh less than a kilogram, and look just like a character out of an anime movie. They were developed entirely by Tomotaka Takahashi, who also ran the demo at the show. Check out the video:

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