Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category

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Here’s an interesting design approach

July 2, 2015

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

Via engineeringtv

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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.)

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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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Make it so

May 3, 2015

Who needs reaction mass? And who understands the physics behind this?

I ran across a mention of testing an EM drive in vacuum a couple of weeks ago but didn’t pay it much attention because of where I found it. Then Paul sent a link to this article at a NASA site which makes me take it more seriously.

If you’re interested in space flight, RTWT. It could be a game-changer.

Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive
April 29, 2015 by José Rodal, Ph.D, Jeremiah Mullikin and Noel Munson – subedited by Chris Gebhardt

A group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has successfully tested an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive in a vacuum – a major breakthrough for a multi-year international effort comprising several competing research teams. Thrust measurements of the EM Drive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed (microwave) cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum.

EM Drive:

Last summer, NASA Eagleworks – an advanced propulsion research group led by Dr. Harold “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – made waves throughout the scientific and technical communities when the group presented their test results on July 28-30, 2014, at the 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

Those results related to experimental testing of an EM Drive – a concept that originated around 2001 when a small UK company, Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR), under Roger J. Shawyer, started a Research and Development (R&D) program.

The concept of an EM Drive as put forth by SPR was that electromagnetic microwave cavities might provide for the direct conversion of electrical energy to thrust without the need to expel any propellant.

This lack of expulsion of propellant from the drive was met with initial skepticism within the scientific community because this lack of propellant expulsion would leave nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum if it were able to accelerate.

What amazes me (and apparently many others) is that you don’t need to haul along a bunch of reaction mass to throw away behind you in order to accelerate.

Heinlein wrote an article about interplanetary travel at constant acceleration. (He and many others have written novels based on that assumption, of course.) The travel times are remarkably shorter than building up an initial velocity and then coasting – which is how we do it now. The critical factor in using constant acceleration has always been carrying the reaction mass you needed to expel in order to get the acceleration.

Even a constant acceleration of 0.1G (0.98m/sec2) makes a huge difference in travel time.

And now – maybe – that’s not necessary after all? Wow. I don’t know if Larry Niven would classify this as an example of his reaction-less drive but I think it’s pretty close.

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Manifest Destiny updated

November 30, 2014

Here’s a very nicely done clip quoting Carl Sagan about space exploration. If you watch, do so in full-screen mode.

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Net Neutrality? Follow the money.

November 15, 2014

The debate over Net Neutrality reminds me of the time 20 years back when voice-over-IP (VoIP) was just becoming A New Thing. What I remember most is the Pie-in-the-Sky attitude that many folks had about VoIP. It opened up a lot of alternatives for carrying voice calls and there was this attitude of "We’re free of the Phone Company now!"

But we weren’t free of reality. Somebody still had to finance the infrastructure no matter whether you were switching circuits on a T1 line or you were routing packets over a TCP/IP connection. Somebody had to pay for the copper, or for the fiber, or for the radio towers. The Follow-The-Money rule still applied.

I think something very similar is happening today in the debate over Net Neutrality. Subscribers want unlimited access to whatever source they choose for a flat fee. They’re thinking, "We’re free of the Phone company/Cable company now!" Meanwhile, ISPs want to be paid based on the traffic they have to carry since the Internet is no more an unlimited resource for video than it was for voice calls. Somebody still has to pay for the copper… etc.

Netflix and (Google’s) YouTube accounted for half of peak-time traffic at the end of last year. As of last May, Netflix accounted for over 1/3 of downstream bandwidth by itself. Maybe you’ve said good-bye to your cable company, but you’ll never say good-bye to the need to finance the infrastructure.


9 questions about network neutrality you were too embarrassed to ask.


So I liked Coyote’s post this week looking at the bottom line for Net Neutrality. If you’re interested in the topic, read the whole thing.

Net Neutrality is Not Neutrality, It is Actually the Opposite. It’s Corporate Welfare for Netflix and Google
November 12, 2014, 12:24 pm

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like. There is a battle that goes on in the marketplace in virtually every communication medium between content creators and content deliverers. We can certainly see this in cable TV, as media companies and the cable companies that deliver their product occasionally have battles that break out in public. But one could argue similar things go on even in, say, shipping, where magazine publishers push for special postal rates and Amazon negotiates special bulk UPS rates. […]

What “net neutrality” actually means is that certain people, including apparently the President, want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators (no surprise given Hollywood’s support for Democrats). Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP’s a lot of money to provide. But Netflix doesn’t want the ISP’s to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses – Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion’s share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it. Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators. […]

Don’t believe me? Well, AT&T and Verizon have halted their fiber rollout. Google has not, but Google is really increasingly on the content creation side. And that is one strategy for dealing with this problem of the government tilting the power balance in a vertical supply chain: vertical integration.

Postscript: There are folks out there who always feel better as a consumer if their services are heavily regulated by the Government. Well, the Internet is currently largely unregulated, but the cable TV industry is heavily regulated. Which one are you more satisfied with?

And I also ran across an interview with Mark Cuban this week. He had similar thoughts. (My emphasis below.)

Mark Cuban On Obama’s Plan For The Internet: ‘The Government Will F— The Internet Up’

Mark Cuban is not a fan of President Obama’s plan for the internet.

He’s been bashing plans to regulate the internet, and questioning other people who support it.

Over email we asked him about the potential for small companies to be stifled by internet providers.

His reponse: “I’m more concerned the government will f— it up.”

Obama thinks the internet should be reclassified to be considered a utility like telephone lines. This would allow it be regulated, and protect consumers and companies that rely on the internet. […]

The fear is that internet providers like Comcast are going to prioritize the traffic of certain companies over the traffic of other companies. In this scenario, it’s harder for a young company to take on older, more monied companies.

Cuban thinks this is an idiotic concern. We asked him if he was worried that internet providers would hurt startups.

“Hell no,” he said. “Since when have incumbent companies been the mainstays for multiple generations?”

He believes that startups blow up older companies despite an unregulated internet that allows internet providers to prioritize certain traffic streams.

Overall, he thinks the current debate is too narrow and short sighted.

“There will be so much competition from all the enhancements to wireless that incumbent ISPs will have to spent their time fighting cord cutting,” he said. […]

As Coyote and Cuban point out, what it comes down to is how this industry grows and who should be trusted to regulate it.

It’s an easy call in my opinion. No matter how limited my choices for ISPs, I can find a better ISP easier than I can find a better FCC. I remember the days before telephone deregulation.

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"Don’t be evil" my aching back

November 11, 2014

I’m taking this report at face value. Assuming it’s correct, this is an amazing show of chutzpah. What do you think that solar plant is, Google, a sports stadium maybe? (My emphasis below.)

World’s largest solar plant applying for federal grant to pay off federal loan

Struggling solar thermal plant seeks huge taxpayer bailout

After already receiving a controversial $1.6 billion construction loan from U.S. taxpayers, the wealthy investors of a California solar power plant now want a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan.

“This is an attempt by very large cash generating companies that have billions on their balance sheet to get a federal bailout, i.e. a bailout from us – the taxpayer for their pet project,” said Reason Foundation VP of Research Julian Morris. “It’s actually rather obscene.”

The Ivanpah solar electric generating plant is owned by Google and renewable energy giant NRG, which are responsible for paying off their federal loan. If approved by the U.S. Treasury, the two corporations will not use their own money, but taxpayer cash to pay off 30 percent of the cost of their plant, but taxpayers will receive none of the millions in revenues the plant will generate over the next 30 years.

Can we get the government out of the habit of picking "winners" and let the market decide what projects get financed? It’s time for some of that Separation of Market and State that I go on about.

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