Archive for April, 2005

Geothermal House Heating

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Last weekend I met with one of my uncles who is a carpenter. He usually work on huge custom houses for
people who can afford them in the Quebec city area. He was telling me an interesting fact, which is that most houses he built in the last years was equiped with geothermal heating systems. Although more environmentally friendly than oil or electricity heating, they have a huge upfront cost, about $20,000. The process of digging the small and deep hole is apparently quite complicated. It shows again, that a lot of environmentally friendly technologies are still for the most fortunate.

He was also telling me that the new fashion for kitchens was to get two dishwashers installed, one clean, one dirty.

Instant messaging for Dolphins

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

There is an interesting project on instant messaging for whales, dolphins and humans.
Using Seadragon you can emit and acquire underwater whistles and try to communicate with whales and dolphins. The software attempt to recognize the whistles. If it can’t, it’s left to your own interpretation.

adobe buys macromedia

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Here is a NYT story about a major deal in the software industry that is particularly interesting to me. Adobe has acquired Macromedia in an all-stock deal. Adobe and Macromedia are notorious direct competitors, offering many very similar products. Adobe had sued Macromedia at one point over alleged infringements of their patents. Adobe is looking to combine their strength in documents and print graphics with Macromedia’s strength in multimedia, such as their products Flash and Dreamweaver. It’s all quite exciting.

Randomly Generated Computer Science

Monday, April 18th, 2005

As was reported by many, a group of graduate students created a randomly generated computer science paper, and submitted it to a conference, where it was accepted to be presented (the invitation was hastily rescinded after it was posted on slashdot). After some discussion on slashdot, it seems the general consensus is that while it may have looked bad, admittedly the conference has accepted it without having it reviewed, and were relying on the presenters to verify the paper (similar to the defense Social Text used in the Sokal affair). The MIT students original site. The reuters report of it can be found here

Of course, the real fun will be when such a paper is accepted even after having been peer reviewed. As it is, the grammar the paper generates isn’t all that atrocious, and is certainly superior to some of the CS papers I’ve been reading lately.

Google Site Seeing

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

Visit the new blog, Google Site Seeing, in which the posts consist of clips of Google maps satellite images. I love the bog’s subtitle: Why bother seeing the world for real?

blog review: warren kinsella

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

So the blog I have decided to review (finally) is This far from my favourite blog and it’s not even really a blog in the traditional sense (it doesn’t allow comments) but it does demonstrate quite clearly how the Internet is being used as a virtual public space.

I will assume that most of you have not heard of Kinsella; if I’m right, don’t worry. He is, however, quite well-known in incestuous Canadian political circles as a writer and a columnist with lots to say. He is a lawyer by training and used to be a senior strategist, advisor, and speech writer for Jean Chretien when he was prime minister. Kinsella also worked for the federal Liberals in a variety of other capacities. He has two other very different interests: the history of hate groups in Canada and punk rock. He has written one book on hate groups and neo-nazism in Canada and a book about the history of punk music is forthcoming.

His blog is mostly about Canadian politics. He posts almost every day, often including links to external media or pasted bits of news stories. He comments on news stories and provides his own thoughts and opinions on what’s going on. Obviously with all the sponsorship inquiry stuff going on, he’s been talking about that quite a lot. He also has quite an interesting past working for the Liberals and often bits of his past come up and he talks about it. He doesn’t get along well with the current Liberal leadership (Paul Martin and co.) – he much preferred Chretien. So he often talks about stuff related to that.

Anyway, Kinsella’s blog is pretty popular, thousands of unique visitors per day from what I can remember. He has created a virtual space — and a rather successful one at that — where he can spread information (or misinformation), campaign for people, complain, protest, etc. He doesn’t allow comments because he says they create a sticky legal issue where the blog owner can be held responsible for everything in the comments. This makes his blog considerably less interactive but it is still, I would argue, a public space.

[Edited to remove snarkiness]

Automated Car Rentals

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

Taking a small break from studying, a story concerning automated car rentals by the BBC.

People who want to have access to the cars for a short while, are pre-approved, and given an RFID tag. Then when people need them, they can go online, and book the car usage, apparently at next-to-no notice. They can then use the RFID tag, and the car, using cell towers, to determine how far the car has travelled, and where it is.

Sounds like an interesting idea for people who only want to use cars every so often, although it seems like in the past, people would likely simply ask one of their neighbours if they could borrow their car for a little bit. I wonder if insurance has made that more of an impossibility. I also wonder if they charge a variable amount depending on the driving record or demographics of the person renting the car. Possibly because I am a high risk young male, but it has always seemed like a bizarre form of legal discrimination to be able to charge different amounts for mandatory insurance simply for being a member of a particular demographic.

Slightly more on topic, I’ve heard about similar, although slightly less low tech, ideas for renting bicycles, where people can use shared bicycles which are locked in various places, and then drop them off. Probably better for the environment for short haul trips, although it can be tough to carry a few bags of groceries on a bicycle, particularly in the winter…

Friday Cat Blogging

Friday, April 15th, 2005

The sleepy cat edition

Building a supercomputer with Chaos

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Hannah talked about supercomputers in her presentation on tuesday.
Here’s a new way to build a supercomputer very easily.
Chaos is a 6MB distribution of Linux that can be booted up from a network or a CD on any computer independently of its hard disk content. The computer can then join a cluster to do some number crunching. Chaos is currently mainly used by it’s creators to do password cracking, but it could be used for other supercomputer traditional tasks. The great thing about Chaos is that you can use any computer running any OS and easily make it part of your cluster without having to re-format the disk, install software, etc…
It could be a great technology for re-using obsolete PCs to build supercomputers.
Here’s the Wired article

Finding Evolution

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Straight from slashdot, an article about how a researcher has taken dormant plankton eggs from many years ago from a heavily polluted lake, incubated them, then compared the hatched plankton with current plankton.

It confirmed some of their hypotheses, the semi-ancient animals showed different traits than do the current ones, likely owing to the different environments the plankton were living in.

It would be interesting to see how the creationists would respond to things like this. Although I suppose it’s not so hard to defend things which aren’t falsifiable.

The article is here: ABC News

It’s also funny how the article is from a broadcast television news website.

Continuing the blog

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

Renee granted me rights for posting on this blog today. Now that the course is over, I hope people will continue to contribute. I have found this to be pretty interesting over the winter months (especially the cats!). I have linked the MSE webpage about student initiatives to here and to Garry Peterson’s Wikki so newcomers to the MSE can see what kinds of things students are discussing.

Good luck on your exams, and to those of you graduating, congratulations!

My child’s first cellphone

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

From NYTimes:

In the hands of a preteenager, a cellphone can be a double-edged sword. It can give parents a sense of security because the child is never out of reach. But it can also cause anxiety because they do not know what else the child is doing with it – burning up the family’s minutes, perhaps.

The Firefly, a new phone from Firefly Mobile, is meant to help reduce such parental angst. Aimed at children age 8 to 12, it is a voice-only phone that gives parents control over how their child uses it.

hybrid power comes to laptops

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

Here’s an item about a new kind of power for laptops that combines a traditional lithium-ion battery with a methanol fuel cell. It sounds really cool! Created by IBM and Sanyo, they claim it lasts as long as most high-end laptop batteries (8 hours) but the potential for more is great.

I’m wondering about the environmental implications of this technology? Does anyone know much about methane as a fuel source?

Will these new laptops be smelly? (just kidding)

spam not so bad now

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life project has found that although Americans are getting more spam, they’re actually getting used to it and minding it less. I’m picturing a curve where as time increases, things bother people less. I wonder if we could call this a technology-annoyance diffusion curve or something. I think a similar statement and curve could exist in relation to use of Windows. People’s systems are crashing more these days but they seem to be used to it and not minding it.

moore’s law turns 40

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

Here is a story about the 40th anniversary of Moore’s law. We talked about Moore’s law in class and I think it’s interesting that this “law,” really now a proverb of sorts, is still so popular. I can’t think of any other similar saying that has gained such notoriety in the last 20 years.

wave energy

Monday, April 11th, 2005

This is the first time I ever heard of this. But maybe it’s not new to you…wave energy. Apparently it can capture more energy and is smaller and less expensive than wind or solar energy, and apparently it is less intrusive to marine habitats than even offshore wind farms! Is this true? Check out the article.

It would be another consideration as an alternative to coal…

rant on hybrid motorcycles in India

Monday, April 11th, 2005

This is from an earlier discussion (much earlier), and relates to sustainable transportation. The claim was that in India, women are being groped when they are walking alone, and no one questions it. The argument is to produce hybrid motorcycles so that women have more independence and freedom, and are not subject to this groping. The problem was that their saris were catching fire. The pro side was that the hybrid technology was sustainable.

I would say it is silly to justify technology for these reasons. You have to separate the components. (Sorry, divisions would work better in fixing this scenario, I think). Ok, so we have the problem of women being groped in public. Using transportation seems like you are fleeing from the problem. Does this solve the problem? In part, yes, because there is less opportunity for groping. We could have targeted the problem, and used a simple bottle of pepper spray to warn others not to touch us, and it would be less environmentally damaging than constructing a hybrid motorcycle (I think, although I’m not sure). Second, why motorcycles? Wouldn’t a bicycle work well too? And bicycles are more sustainable than motorcycles. And you don’t have to worry about saris catching fire on a bicycle.

market for efficient technology

Monday, April 11th, 2005

Ok, so there does seem to be a market for efficient technology, according to a case where used hybrid Pirus’ are going for more than their list price when they first entered the market. There is a wait period of about 2 months for the car. It’s due to high gas prices, the study says.

For the story, clickhere

It is nice to see that people are readily switching over to this more environmentally friendly technology. But I’m still not convinced that cars are the right way to go if we are concerned about the environment…

Also, wouldn’t this call for some economic restructuring within the manufacturing industry, so that they can benefit from this too??? Then the government could put up some standards, such as only producing hybrid or electric cars in the future, and still benefit in the longrun (although it may be costly at first…) hmmm but maybe we could increase the gas tax by 1 cent and give the millions of $ generated to these companies to produce more environmentally-friendly designs, or something.

a lack of computers?

Monday, April 11th, 2005

There is a movie out now called “Genesis”. Maybe you have already seen it, or perhaps have seen “Microcosmos” by the same people? I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I understand it is a movie that looks at the creating of the Earth and life on Earth from the view of someone that has had very limited exposure to computers or any type of modern technology that we consider to part of our every day life.

the film is apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) narrated by an African elder and storyteller. He used myths and fables to explain his version of the story of “time, matter, birth and death.” I will be interested to see this and I wonder if his version is similar to that of the scientific world – the one that has been made possible to fathom and grasp only with the aide of technology!?!?

As a side note, when I was in Kenya, we spent about five days in an extremely rural village where people were living in mud huts (not that this is unusual) and sharing beds with goats, but had still learned about, and acquired, email addresses!

The movie is playing now at AMC.

not just in the workplace

Monday, April 11th, 2005

We have talked a fair bit about computers at work – i.e. ergonomics, “micro-breaks”, fast replacement rates, etc, etc.. Also about the shift to using computer technology for SO many things (museums, taxes, other data collection stuff, buying things, etc etc)… Anyway, we basically all agree that computers are becoming more and more popular for more and mroe things. One thing we haven’t talked much about, or at least only in passing, is computers in schools.

I was just chatting on msn with my 11 year old cousin. She was typing up her homework! this perked my intersted and I asked her a few more questions… turns out she is not only using computers to type up written homework assignments. Her class is currently working on a science project about “animals”; they work in the computer lab next to their classroom to make powerpoint presentations about animals, when the powerpoint is ready to go she will use it as an aide for her presentation to the rest of the class! The have to submit basically everything typed and have software that they use for math and music classes!

Is this not crazy!~?!?!? They are using computers not just for everything in the world, but everything in the elementary school world as well!