Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category


Name that system Lucy

August 20, 2015

An efficient way to make carbon nanofibers is pretty cool, even if you’re not all that concerned about atmospheric CO2 concentration.

But will this process scale? That’s the question.

Now if they could only do this to make graphene. I’m waiting to see an electric car powered by graphene super-capacitors which are the car’s body panels. You’d have to add weight to make it stable.

‘Diamonds from the sky’ approach turns CO2 into valuable products

BOSTON, Aug. 19, 2015 — Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials. Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric CO2 directly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products. […]

“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University. “Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported. […]

Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.” That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide. At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates at 1,380 degrees F (750 degrees C). Atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell. Once there, the CO2 dissolves when subjected to the heat and direct current through electrodes of nickel and steel. The carbon nanofibers build up on the steel electrode, where they can be removed, Licht says. […]

Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this “solar thermal electrochemical process” to be around $1,000 per ton of carbon nanofiber product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.

“We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” he says. […]

Via Gizmag


Corporate water is soulless

July 30, 2015

A bit of humor for a change.

H.T. Jeff G


Constitutional malware

July 24, 2015

Paul sends a link to an interesting paper by Jonathan Mayer which appears at Social Science Research Network.

The United States government hacks computer systems, for law enforcement purposes. According to public disclosures, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration are increasingly resorting to computer intrusions as an investigative technique. This article provides the first comprehensive examination of how the Constitution should regulate government malware.

When applied to computer systems, the Fourth Amendment safeguards two independent values: the integrity of a device as against government breach, and the privacy properties of data contained in a device. Courts have not yet conceptualized how these theories of privacy should be reconciled.

Government malware forces a constitutional privacy reckoning. Investigators can algorithmically constrain the information that they retrieve from a hacked device, ensuring they receive only data that is — in isolation — constitutionally unprotected. According to declassified documents, FBI officials have theorized that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in this scenario. A substantially better view of the law, I conclude, is that the Fourth Amendment’s dual protections are cumulative, not mutually exclusive.

Applying this two-stage framework, I find that the Fourth Amendment imposes a warrant requirement on almost all law enforcement malware. The warrant must be valid throughout the duration of the malware’s operation, and must provide reasonable ex post notice to a computer’s owner. In certain technical configurations, the Constitution goes even further, requiring law enforcement to satisfy an exacting “super-warrant” standard. Reviewing public disclosures, I find that the government has a spotty record of compliance with these foundational privacy safeguards.


Take my rights. Please.

July 18, 2015

I don’t think this quite reaches the level of civil disobedience but it would certainly be good for civil annoyance. (And maybe give TSA folks a clue that they should find productive work.)

In any case, I think I’ll buy a few because I like the idea.

TSA “Bill of Rights” Card

Mr Jillette and a friend of his got the idea to make playing card size copies of the Bill of Rights printed on metal. It sets off the metal detectors and you get to hear the security person say, “I’m going to have to take away your Bill of Rights.” Well, it’s not going to actually work like that very often, but the idea is there. They’re light and go right into a breast pocket. Purchase 1 or 100 and hand em out to your friends.

H.T. Jeff G


Here’s an interesting design approach

July 2, 2015

It’s a pity they don’t show it actually going 0 – 60.

Via engineeringtv


Big Yellow

June 22, 2015

This struck me for a couple of reasons. First is the heavy-duty geekery going on to build a 500-ton vehicle.

How an enormous Caterpillar mining truck is built
Forget a factory assembly line. The Cat 797 mining truck is so gigantic, it’s assembled on-site. Watch how it’s done.

Everything about the Cat 797 mining truck is huge. It has 4,000 horsepower, the engine displacement is nearly 6,500 cubic inches, it weighs more than a million pounds, and it has a payload capacity of 400 tons. “Big” barely does it justice.

What does it take to build such a monster? Caterpillar shows us in the Cat 797 assembly video. It starts at the plant in Decatur, IL, but the pieces aren’t assembled into a mammoth machine until they get out to the job site.

The second reason is memories: my dad spent all his working life at Caterpillar and my sister works there now. In fact, I think sis has been up inside one of these monsters (though they didn’t let her drive, as I recall).

I recall stories from the 60s about the Scottish woodcarvers Caterpillar had "imported" whose job it was to carve the masters for sand casting. Imagine carving a full-scale wooden crankshaft or cylinder head for a large diesel engine. (Not the engines used in the 797, I should add.)


These good old days of cheap energy

June 4, 2015

Here’s a video that highlights something I think most people take for granted.

All that work to generate the electricity that costs me about 2/10 of a cent. How many Roberts for a penny’s worth of current? 5.

He’s lucky he only had to power a toaster. One of my grandmothers had no toaster. Instead, she toasted bread using the broiler in her electric oven – one side at a time. (And was that slow.) I’d like to see Robert toast bread that way.

As for granny, it gets worse: on cool mornings in spring or autumn, she’d turn the oven on with its door open to take the chill out of her kitchen.

Looking at the #toasterchallenge hashtag, I imagine that the video makers’ point is that we should all conserve energy as much as possible.

But I don’t regard energy as some finite resource that we’re likely to completely consume in the near future. We hadn’t run out of coal when we switched to oil. We hadn’t run out of trees when we switched to coal. I doubt that we’ll have run out of oil when we switch to… whatever.

As one of Carl Sagan’s sons (I don’t recall which one) said: life is possible because the Earth exists in the sun’s energy gradient. That gradient – that waterfall of energy we live within – is what drives it all. And I think we’ve got a few billion years to go before we’ll need another star.

Assuming that the market’s allowed to work, energy will continue to be available pretty much indefinitely. It may not always be available at today’s bargain prices, which allow us to waste it on things like air travel for pleasure, power sports, global computer networks, vanity satellite launches, quick and easy cooking, well-lit roads and sidewalks, and toasting bread in electric ovens.

But it’ll be available.

Update 6/6/15: Now here’s a way to toast bread that wastes even more energy than granny’s method, I think. I hate to think how many ‘Roberts’ this would take.

Via engadget

Update 6/2/15:

Maybe I was too pessimistic above or too into the current group think about energy. This article appeared recently at Bloomberg Business.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you: […]

Prices are coming down for rooftop solar and — more importantly — for home energy storage. (See Tesla’s Powerwall.)

Dry battery storage is still a little spendy; the Powerwall unit’s not cheap when you start looking at its lifetime and replacement costs. But when I can store 30-40 kWh in my basement for 10¢/kWh (counting maintenance & replacement), I’ll be all over that.


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