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si-blog

si-blog

Google+

In addition to Twitter , I've begun using the Google+ service. In many ways, it is a similar service to Twitter; however, it does not impose a 140-character limit and it is a better vehicle for sharing rich media. Please consider following me on my Google+ account.

Twitter

Although I still blog here from time to time, I have essentially shifted my focus to microblogging. As a result, I write more often about more things. Please consider following me on my Twitter feed.

Repowering energy

Posted Jun 15, 2010 in Politics, Science, Technology.

The explosion and subsequent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has reminded everyone of how fucking awful oil-based energy solutions are. Oil is rich in energy that can be unlocked and exploited reasonably efficiently, so it has basically driven the world economy for many decades. But oil is also a finite resource that has provoked wars and economic crises on countless occasions. It also carries a significant negative environmental impact.

Humanity must transition from using oil-based energy to one that revolves around electricity. In order to do that, investments must be made in technology to improve the way electricity is generated, stored and transferred. Governments must stimulate the private sector to invent better battery technologies, while investing in intelligent grid infrastructure and clean generation.

Many governments have claimed that natural gas, ethanol and so-called “clean coal” are the solution to the oil problem, but this is complete nonsense. Like oil, natural gas and coal are finite resources with a terrible environmental impact. Ethanol is created by basically turning what would normally be food into a fuel that can be burned, with the same environmental drawbacks as any other fuel that relies on combustion to release its energy. These resources can and should be used, but only as an interim solution while the world awaits the development of a cleaner approach. Nuclear energy has a different set of problems associated with it, but it too can be used while better technology is being developed.

There are several clean approaches that can be used to generate electricity. The world already makes use of hydroelectric technologies to generate electricity from the flow of water, largely without a negative environmental impact. These can be expanded to include the exploitation of the currents and waves of rivers and oceans. Some countries can generate electricity from geothermal vents. Solar and wind technologies will probably be responsible for the bulk of energy needs in the near future. Sunshine and wind are limitless resources that are always available and can be easily exploited if solar and wind farms are situated in the right places. In the distant future, fusion-based technology may be employed to generate electricity that will be able to use the same grid infrastructure.

Nexus One

Posted Mar 21, 2010 in Design, Gadgets, Technology.

Image of a Nexus One smartphone

It cost a lot of money, but I finally took the plunge and bought a Nexus One from Google. I have been looking to get a smartphone for a few years, but it wasn't until Google unleashed their (largely) open source Android operating system that I began to salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs.

I have a family phone plan with AT&T, so I wanted to stay with the carrier for convenience. Unfortunately, the only decent-quality smartphones available were Apple's iPhone and, more recently, a couple of Windows Mobile-based units from HTC units that had been butchered by AT&T's crapware.

When Google released the Nexus One back in January, it was only available on the T-Mobile network (from a 3G perspective), and I don't mind admitting I was a little jealous. An announcement that Verizon customers would get a version made me seriously consider leaving AT&T; however, Google released a version that would work on the AT&T network just before I was going to make the jump. Without a carrier subsidy, the cost (almost $600 with tax) was high, but I ordered my phone on the day it was released.

I've been playing with it for a few days now, and I have to say that I am delighted with it. So much so, in fact, that I have ordered another to replace my wife's ageing flip phone. The phone delivers all the latest mobile phone technologies, and Google ties them together with a suite of tools designed to maximize their potential. I have been trying to get used to using the virtual keyboard, but Google has endowed the phone with the ability to convert speech into text, so I've been cheating a little.

I downloaded an e-book reader that allows me to read all the great classics that have entered the public domain, a Google application that can tell me what stars and constellations I am looking at by simply pointing the phone at them, and a digital compass that uses a combination of the phone's GPS and orientation sensors.

Anyway, I've been tweeting about my Nexus One adventures if readers are interested in hearing about my experiences with the device. Next week, I'll be getting a higher capacity microSD card so I can load a large chunk of my music collection on to it.

The Apple iPad

Posted Jan 28, 2010 in Design, Gadgets, Technology.

Apple have finally launched their much-hyped tablet computer. The iPad sports a 9.7-inch, multitouch screen powered by a custom processor running the same operating system as their iPhone. It looks a bit like a giant iPhone, but the screen adopts a 4:3 aspect ratio with a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels. Billed as a "magical and revolutionary device" by Steve Jobs, the unit is best described by what it doesn't have:

Multitasking
Like the iPhone, it can only run a single application at a time. It means, for example, a user cannot be having an instant message conversation or playing some music while surfing the web. For most, this startling omission is a deal breaker.
Adobe Flash
Despite being billed as the best way to surf the internet, it fails to include support for Adobe's Flash technology.
Camera
Multitouch technology makes the iPad great at manipulating images, but there is no camera with which to take them. Nor is there any webcam for video chat.
Battery
As with many other Apple devices, the battery isn't removable.
GPS
The large screen and map application makes the device seem perfectly-suited for navigation, but the lack of GPS makes this largely unworkable.
USB
There are no USB ports. Connecting a USB peripheral requires an adapter.
Open platform
As with all Apple technology, the device is burdened with proprietary hardware and software, as well as the usual Digital Rights Management-related stuff.
High definition
The 1024 by 768 pixel resolution allows for 720p high definition video, but cannot handle the 1080p accepted as the high definition standard. Nor is there an HDMI port.
OLED
Surely this would also have been a great opportunity for Apple to make use of OLED screen technology?

In conclusion, the iPad utterly fails to live up to the enormous amount of hype it has received, and it would not be wrong to say this is Apple's biggest product failure in decades.

The new Star Trek

Posted Jun 08, 2009 in Movies, Science Fiction.

I am a lifelong fan of Star Trek. I love the television shows, I love the films, and I love the books. Of all the various versions of the show, my favorite is the original series from the late 1960s. I was born in 1971, so I was first exposed to Kirk, Spock and McCoy many years after they first appeared; however, it meant that I did not have to suffer the awful wilderness years that came before the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I thought Kirk was cool. I thought Spock was... well... logical. And the USS Enterprise was the most beautiful spaceship in all of science fiction. It was, therefore, with no small amount of trepidation that I took my wife (also a fan) to see the new Star Trek film from J. J. Abrams.

I was not to be disappointed. In my personal opinion, this is the best Trek movie since 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The director and cast completely captured the essence of what Trek is all about, with spectacular action and special effects not detracting at all from deep character development and thoughtful storytelling. More crucially, however, is the fact that J. J. Abrams has crafted an origin story that fits in with Trek of old, yet provides a fresh and exciting platform on which to rebuild the great franchise.

With a new, yet instantly-identifiable USS Enterprise and a solid cast that refreshes, yet remains respectful to the original characters, Star Trek seems poised to warp into a successful future. Box office receipts, while disappointing outside the US market, have been satisfying and comparable with other “rebooted” franchises.

I was particularly impressed with the performances of Chris Pine (as Kirk) and Karl Urban (as McCoy), but all the main cast were truly superb in their roles and Zoe SaldaƱa expanded the role of Uhura in an interesting new direction. The few niggling criticisms I have of the film, mostly concerning holes in the plot, are really of no consequence and can be largely passed off as artistic choices. This must have been an extremely difficult movie to make, particularly with such a large, canon-obsessed fan base; however, it ticked all the boxes of this Trek fan and I cannot wait for the next one.

Wikipedia and bias

Posted Mar 25, 2009 in Media, Politics.

Wikipedia is constantly being accused of having a bias toward a ''liberal'' point of view. Obviously Wikipedia has other bias issues too, such as the suggestion that it is too US-centric, but it does its best to address these with a concerted effort to eradicate systemic bias. But the politics thing is different. I have a theory about this I wish to share with my readers.

When progressively-minded Wikipedians edit contentious articles, they have a tendency to carefully and painstakingly build a consensus for their edit. Often this involves consultation of reliable sources and extensive talk page discussion. This approach is time-consuming, but in most cases successful.

Conservatively-minded editors employ a different editing strategy. They will make “drive-by edits” posting misleading or accusatory material in articles about liberals. They will use the talk pages of articles to “inform” Wikipedians of Wikipedia's terrible bias, or of the evils and sins of certain liberals. They will wave their arms around in the air and shout as loudly as they possibly can. They will create multiple Wikipedia accounts (known as sockpuppets, often using dozens of IP addresses) to try to get around Wikipedia's rules and guidelines. If discovered and blocked, they will enlist the assistance of other conservatives to do their editing and shouting on their behalf (meatpuppets). They will tell lies about everything, criticize everything, and delete anything that doesn't agree with their ideology.

Okay, this may be a slight generalization and exaggeration; however, as someone who is generally a progressively-minded person it seems like a pretty accurate description of how Wikipedia works. The conservatively-minded folks are easy to spot (thanks to their arm-waving and shouting), but they are many and they are relentless. They claim the moral high ground, yet they employ cheating and lying as normal tactics to achieve their goals. But it is because of their transparent agenda that liberally-minded folks with their methodical, rules-based approach can fend them off. I imagine that it is infuriating to be a conservative Wikipedian, because the kind of consensus-driven, community-driven, good-faith driven system employed by Wikipedia is anathema to them.

Oh well. Too bad.


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