More Nuclear Debate

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

This was a really great debate between the two camps of whether or not to add nuclear power to our arsenal of energy sources sans fossil fuels. The big piece wrong is that they are talking about two different sets of numbers. The pro side is talking about overall current energy needs, whereas the anti side was speaking about replacing transportation energy costs. Once you see that, it undercuts the anti side quite a bit.

Still, it is great to hear those points out. It does seem that with our knowledge, wind can and ought to be a strong power source, and solar ought to be on all suburban and rural rooftops. Hell, you can farm underneath wind turbines, so you might as well plug your tractor in and remove even more of the black energy required to generate our food.

Both points, though, miss a big step: transportation of energy. We lose tons of electricity over our power lines. Superconductors aren’t viable for mass production. Battery power keeps getting better so long as we keep wanting Internet access in our pockets. But how do you think all the electricity is going to get from 10,000 wind turbines to a town?

The first speaker was right that we can hold onto our nuclear waste materials while fourth-generation generators (waste burners, essentially) are developed further. And who wouldn’t love the idea of burning our kill-Earth-ten-times stockpile down to a simple kill-Earth-twice stockpile? That right there should be the front retort of any anti-nuclear energy argument.

So the future is nuclear for base load, wind for topping off that base and for sale (windy in one place, calm in another), and solar for the extra daytime use? Sounds reasonable for me. Now if we can either quit burning fossils for creating and moving our foods (oh yeah, and packaging them), we may do better. Plastics aren’t going anywhere, but I wouldn’t mind going back to a world of mostly wood, metal, stone, and glass.

It would help us all out if we made our food more short-range, for certain. And if I could take a train to anywhere in the region. But if we can at least kick the black energy for using our computers and lights and toasters, we’re at least going to be in a better place.

I’m Still Here

All reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am in fact still alive and well, my silly California-raised self in the Midwest. Due to magically unforeseen budget shortfalls (wait for it) on behalf of my local school district, we are closing eight (8) schools this summer. One of which is a middle school that is melding with my own. So they hired me and my closed-school counterpart to wipe out and pack up both schools in preparation for next year.

In short, I have been hired on for extra hours through the end of the month. So not only am I working when I previously thought not, I was also fully informed of it a week before I would begin. M and I have been scrambling to figure out where on Earth our children should go. And we, being the impoverished homebody black sheep that we are, have not yet established a strong network for impromptu child support.

At least this week has been very productive, to the point of being over halfway finished with a three-week project in four days. Best to tackle overwhelming projects like a well-trained wolverine, I suppose.

I am not in the process of going into blog-suicide by talking about not writing. I’m just busier lately, and shorter evenings are spent recovering from more intensely laborious work during the day (read: old computers are fucking heavy!) with a cold beer and attempting to remember to breath from the gut instead of the shoulders.

I do want to apologize for the lack of pictures of the local offspring. We’ve been lax for sure, but May into June is simply second only to the Thanksgiving to New Years gauntlet in terms of ‘things going on’. I hope to make it up to you soon.

Through it all, though, I make room to be creative. Here is the email I sent out to my building’s faculty today, warning them of impending doom:

Greetings One and All Summerites!

Starting today and through a fortnight, I shall be declaring war on information by calling forth the demons from the fiery pits of our servers, flinging their evil across the Ether(net) to destroy everything held dear on each and every computer at our institute of learning! MWAHAHA! If you wish to save your precious Data, I will listen to your pleas, whither electronic or vocal, with utter delight and amusement! Rest assured, though, my wrath shall be wrought no matter what you say!

Nutshell:

I’m erasing the computers. Talk to or email me if you need help saving stuff or need use of your computer for a longer time. Don’t call, I won’t be at my room much.

Have a fun summer. Don’t forget to read a book.

A good book. None of that Twilight nonsense.

Best,

Evan

PS, MWAHAHAHA! (Sinister laugh)

Actually, looking back, I’ll probably take some shit about the Twilight thing.

Creativity and smarts ain’t the same thing, is they?

A Little More On Music

A cool article showing how the advancements in making pianos have changed the sounds of music from what their composers may have heard.

The prime example of what I’m talking about is perhaps the most famous piece ever written: Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. Hector Berlioz called its murmuring, mournful first movement, “one of those poems that human language does not know how to interpret.” At the beginning, Beethoven directs the performer to hold down the sustain pedal through the whole first movement, so the strings are never damped. With the pianos of Beethoven’s time, on which the sustain of the strings was shorter than today, the effect was subtle, one harmony melting into another. On a modern piano, with its longer sustain, the effect of holding the pedal down would be a tonal traffic jam. Today you have to fake the effect, and it never quite works as intended. Here’s Alfred Brendel playing the beginning of the “Moonlight” about as well as anyone on the ubiquitous modern Steinway.

Compare that to Gayle Martin Henry playing a piano from around 1805 by the Viennese maker Caspar Katholnig.

The sound is startlingly different from a modern piano and takes a while to get used to. These instruments were mostly played in small to medium-size rooms. The sound is intimate; you hear wood and felt and leather. The voicing is varied through the registers rather than the homogenous sound of modern pianos. On the Katholnig, the effect of holding the pedal down in the “Moonlight” has a ghostly effect, most obvious in the longer-sustaining bass notes that can sound like a distant gong. All these elements of the pianos Beethoven knew shaped the music in the first place, including the way he picked out high and low notes around the murmuring figure in the middle of the keyboard.

You’ll have to click over to the article to hear the music clips to hear what he’s talking about. It’s very cool, and something I’ve often wondered. It is a bit of a musical history musing as to what Mozart would have come up with if he had access to more modern pianos with far greater dynamic ranges.

(Found via Megan McArdle :: The Atlantic.)

Jumpin’ at the Fry Side

Searching the word ‘Jump’ in my iTunes library pulls up quite a selection of tracks, I’d say.
SearchForJump.jpg

Truth be told, I take full responsibility for The Pointer Sisters on that list (since that was what I was looking for; the toddler kept shouting out the word and hopping up and down). Oh and Sugar Hill Gang. Those are definitely mine. I deny any association with The Jacksons or Taylor Swift.

A Different iPad User

I thought this was an interesting take on a different kind of use for an iPad.

Person: My mother. 62. Queen of the Luddites.
Computer proficiency: Absolutely none.
Will she be getting the iPad? Yep. The 16GB 3G model.
Why? My mom has never owned a computer. She doesn’t have an internet connection. She couldn’t explain to you what Facebook is. And she refers to my iPhone as “that information device.”

Given all this, I was quite surprised when she said she’ll be getting one right away. But then it made perfect sense. My mom hates computers because the icons are so small and the various program UI’s are relatively confusing (remember, she’s a 62 year old woman who still clings to her VHS tapes). My mom never saw the value in getting a computer and subscribing to a $30 monthly internet service when computers were always hard for her to use (she never really understood the mouse moves the cursor on the screen thing) and the only thing she would really use the computer for would be email.

For her the iPad is perfect. It’s not small like the iPhone, so she can see everything on the screen without squinting. Because my mom is a light internet user (think email and Skype), the $15 pay-as-you-go 250MB 3G price plan is perfect for her – especially since she can cancel at any time. She doesn’t have to sign a $30 a month contract and has no modem to worry about dying on her. But, the real appeal about the iPad is there is no mouse for her to fuddle with or cursor to follow. With the iPad, when she wants to check on her email, she simply touches the screen. My mom has poor sight but the iPad is both large enough and features a simple enough UI that she can touch to email with ease.

Best of all, when she isn’t checking her email, the iPad will double as a digital picture frame. My mom loves her photos and has recently gotten a digital camera. But with no computer, she’s had to take the camera card to Walgreen’s to get the pictures printed. Now with the iPad and the camera connection kit she can bypass a computer entirely and view her photos as never before.

I hadn’t thought of the iPad as a device for the non-computer user before, namely since it requires a computer to sync up to. However, it seems more self-contained than even an iPhone, so it could work. And besides, when there’s an update or other things to put on it, usually it’s the computer-savvy relative helping out anyway, why not just plug into their computer and fix everything there? I can see this.

Yet still a big issue is the backlit screen versus e-ink (as pointed out later in the article). E-ink is easier on the eyes, so hopefully there are some good screen settings in there for those of us who would use it as a newspaper most of the time.

Let’s Go Nuclear, But Start Small

Here is a grand idea from Professor Bainbridge about how to get nuclear power going again in the US.

The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers.

By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country.

To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.

The proposal should not offend small government sensibilities. Nuclear power is rife with market failures (and government failures). Huge research and development costs associated with traditional large scale nuclear power plants may be beyond the ability of private firms to finance. In addition, we know that private firms tend to underproduce the sort of basic R&D necessary to develop new generations of power plants. But the Navy already spends money to develop new naval reactors, which presumably could be scaled up at reasonable costs. Since the Navy need not worry about earning market competitive rates of return on its investment in R&D, moreover, there’s no economic disincentive to conducting that sort of R&D in the Navy.

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

I thought this was great. Small power plants at military sites means the technology gets used, they don’t use fossil fuels, our defense not only stays off the grid but can now offset some costs by selling leftover power to the grid.

Now all we have to do is upgrade the damn grid.

iPredict

So yes, last week saw the unveiling of Apple’s iPad. Now, as usual, I’m about a week behind on when something actually happens. But here are my initial thoughts when it comes to where the iPad could be useful.
First I had to think about when I would use such a device. Currently, I work in front of a laptop and a desktop, then I can take the laptop home and use it to look up recipes and email people as well. Plus I’ll have all my favorite tools and programs at my fingertips.

I have no commute. I drive less than 10 miles, sans errands, to get myself and my kids where we need to go. And I can barely listen to the radio in that time because decent music is few and far between and the news would spark too many awful questions from my six year old.

Plus I recently decided to ditch my iPhone for a simpler way of life. I’ve yet to sell the stupid thing, but that’s a digression. So I’m not feeling any loss for not having a digital reading device on me at all times.

So right now, I wouldn’t buy an iPad. Neither would my wife, since it couldn’t play any of her flash-based diversions, nor handle her online classes.

But I would have picked one up by my second year of college for one reason: textbooks. It’s yet to be seen whether Apple has this in the works, but as I see it, if you can make interactive textbooks that are half the price and can be produced without the costs of printing, then you win. Plus, nobody could buy used books since they are a one-shot purchase.

So for the price of $500 and the cost of textbooks cut in half, then you can pretty well see the device paying for itself in a year. I sure would have liked to tote around an iPad rather than huge, awful books. With an iPad to be my dictionary, quick reference, and full textbook, as well as my own handwritten notebook for the sake of building my memories more deeply, it would have worked well.

Another huge piece that would have been a gift to me would be a sheet music reader. That would be a tricky piece of software to come up with, since it would need an auto-scrolling feature. The screen is smaller than a letter-sized piece of paper, which is usually smaller than standard sheet music. But if I kept it all, scanned in images at the very least, with the ability to annotate as I needed, then it’d be quite useful indeed.

I also keep seeing it, if there is a sheet music app, as a pit orchestra with little glowing pieces of music rather than relying on crappy stand lights.

These are all big ifs, but I can see it as very possible. I think a big part missing is a stylus that could really absorb handwriting, even if it couldn’t transcribe the handwriting into plain text. Then you could write notes all over your books and music without affecting the primary source.

The tricks I describe would probably also depend on whether multi-tasking on the device is allowed. We shall have to wait and see.

The State Of The Union

My take on the State of the Union speech last night was that it sounded more like a lecture to Congress, rather than a speech for the people. I am all for that, because more than ever, it seems that the Senate and House have far more problems getting work done than Obama. And Obama is a constitutional scholar; he respects that Congress is the primary body politic of the US and that it needs the most power compared to the President and to the Supreme Court.
I am naturally a libertarian (except when it comes to children), and would lean Republican, but have yet to vote for one. I can’t see myself supporting a party overrun by Jesus with an M-16. I’ve never been able to fully support Democrats because I think they want government to do too much for us, plus I don’t much care for Unions or hippies.

So to me, the speech went well. I like to hear the ideas of rolling back the government a bit in order to, you know, pay for things we promise. And I really liked that Obama vocally disagreed with the Supreme Court (Roberts as CJ = we’ll be paying for Bush for a long, long time), and that he admonished both parties in Congress for failing to do work.

Democrats, you have a majority, do something with it. Republicans, just saying ‘no’ to everything isn’t leadership. Seriously, this is why I can’t support any of you right now. (Note: I do support Democrat Tarryl Clark for Congress in my district for so many good reasons I named above.)

It’s been interesting reading the immediate responses to the speech out in the blogosphere. The truly liberal are ragingly pissed about Obama’s concessions to cut spending and still wanting to work with Republicans. The political commentators seem wary that the speech did anything. And, well, I don’t have many conservative writers in my RSS feed because they sound as though they’re foaming at the mouth more than anything else.

Frankly, I thought Obama passing the responsibility on to Congress to get things done, particularly telling Republicans that if they have a better idea, he’d like to hear it. I think that’s a great way to call them out on their empty critiques.

I spent the speech just sitting there watching and reading a couple of other live-blogging events. There were only a couple of points that made me react. Here’s from my Twitter feed:

Did he really just end the Iraq war, or has that date always been set?

YES! Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell! [I actually clapped and shouted ‘Yes!’ when I heard that.]

These are big deal things to me, and he had better follow through. Now, I know Obama said that combat troops would be out of Iraq, so that means we’d still have support personnel on the ground. Frankly, I see a permanent base there, similar to the leftovers of World War Two.

As for DADT, I’m excited, but the history I’ve read from other blogs is to be wary. Many things have been promised in the past to the gay community and so many went unfulfilled. But I can see DADT ending with Iraq engagement and taking care of two big shifts in the military at once.

To wrap up, I want to note the Republican response to the State of the Union. Interesting to note, Governor McDonnell gave the response before an actual assembly rather than in front of a camera in a room. It’s just different than what has been done before.

However, Governor McDonnell said nothing. The entire time, he sounded like an empty shell. I kept waiting and waiting for a single idea that could be presented as an alternative to any of Obama’s plans. I heard mention of off-shore drilling, but that was all, and Obama even hit on that himself.

So it was a non-speech. Even my wife kept repeating to me, he’s not saying anything. But according to pundits, the bar was so low, all he had to do was not cut an audible fart in front of the camera. Good job, McDonnell. At least your speech was only ten minutes so you didn’t have to worry about saying anything relevant.

Moving On Down

As many of you are aware, I’m a rather tech-savvy guy. It’s, in fact, a part of my job. I need to know about what’s new out there in the digital world and need to know it well enough to explain things to people who have questions about it.
So it’s practically a given that I wanted an iPhone. I got an iPhone, I have an iPhone. All else in this world pales in comparison to the iPhone. Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha all would have had iPhones (and by miracles would never be out of service, of course.)

I figured out how to unlock and jailbreak my phones (yes, we’ve run through the gamut of them in my house) so we can make use of our better-cost T-Mobile plans. I also was quite clever to avoid data charges since it was never long I was away from a wifi connection. All the power and none of the extra crazy costs? Totally win.

However, it turned out I barely used my phone. I would text, and twitter, and occasionally play a game. I didn’t have data, nor a 3G, so there was no GPS for me. (Which, by the way, I use a map, the sun, and my feet in dense areas, so I’ve never been at a loss there.)

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