Archive for June, 2008

It’s How You Drive It

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

A somewhat comical comparison between the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius and BMW’s new M3 sedan. The results are NOT what you might think. I am surrounded by people gushing over the Prius precisely because it is ostensibly so very “economical.” Cue the bucket of cold water.

Found via Matt Dickman’s

Where Did All The Cement Go?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

As evidenced from the graph above (via ), it goes to China. 50% of the cement produced last year was produced and ultimately used by China, which equates to 1.3 gigatons of cement. China only exported 33 million tons of cement out of that 1.3 gigatons. Just as an FYI, a gigaton is one billion tons. India was a distant second at .3 gigatons. With the growth and expansion of the nascent infrastructure that has been underway in China, especially in preparation for the Olympics, this probably is not too surprising, but the enormous gap between China and the entire rest of the world is definitely noteworthy. Additionally, something startling that I learned is that each ton of cement produced also produces a ton of the greenhouse gas CO2. In 2007 cement consumption in China produced 1.3 gigatons of CO2, which I’m guessing is a helluva lot of CO2 to be produced by one industry in one nation.

Putting these numbers into context, and perhaps as an explanation for the relatively small production of cement in the United States, is the reality that we invested in and built up our infrastructure during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. That effort also required massive amounts of cement, tonnages that I am guessing are comparable to China’s recent production totals. With our infrastructure largely in place the requirement for massive quantities of cement in the U.S. just is not there, relative to the demand for cement in support of growth in China. That is, until the escalation in the crumbling of our streets, highways, bridges and interstates begins to necessitate more comprehensive replacement and expansion, something that certainly seems to be gaining more momentum nationwide as our national infrastructure moves into its sixth decade of intense use.

I very highly recommend subscribing to if you have any interest in energy policy, peak oil, and the social, political, and economic implications of our dependence on foreign oil. The coverage on this blog is comprehensive and the writing is excellent.

Follow The Water

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

The Phoenix Mars mission team released some on June 20th. The Phoenix Mars explorer, since landing on Mars on May 25th,  had definitively established that the white material exposed with its digging tool earlier is in fact frozen water. Phoenix had found water ice just below the Martian regolith. That was a significant part of the mission, and to accomplish it so quickly and efficiently is a big win for NASA, JPL, and the whole mission team. The proof is represented in the image above. If you watch the image you see the white material begin to shrink and disappear. That is called , which is the transition of an element or compound from solid to gas without the intermediary liquid step. Given the atmospheric conditions on Mars, you are seeing evidence above of the frozen water on mars subliming.

Identifying water ice was the first important step in the mission team’s “follow-the-water” mission framework. Knowing that they are working with water ice now triggers a series of analyses that will help identify the mineral components and chemicals in that water ice, and also look for any organic materials. This investigation will help determine if the conditions just below the Martian surface are conducive to microbial life, and if that life exists or has existed on Mars.

Robots For Oil Spills

Friday, June 20th, 2008

There is a very good chance that drilling will begin in the coastal waters of the United States, and perhaps also places like the . This brings the possibility of environmental disasters due to accidents and spills much closer to home. There are arguments for and against doing this, and one of the more interesting arguments for allowing the drilling is that the United States has been outsourcing its environmental disasters for too long, and that the drilling off our coasts is inevitable. We have the technology and care for the environment to drill in a way that will minimize environmental impact and address accidents in a fast and efficient manner. I do not really agree with this logic, but knowing that the drilling is going to happen it is good to have technology on our side.

Enter the OSP robot, a concept by product designer Ji-hoon Kim, which is a modular, easily transportable, solar powered, oil spill containment solution. Once deployed the robots autonomously contain the spill with an inflatable barrier quickly minimizing the impact of the oil spill and supporting the successful cleanup and management of the accident by the cleanup teams. Response to a spill with these robots is swift, as they can be quickly deployed from special dispensers on board helicopters or boats:

OSP Robot deployment options

This is one of many oil spill containment tools that should be investigated, and it would be good to not wait until we are drilling off the coast of the United States to do so. An environmental disaster in Africa or Asia from an oil spill has reverberations throughout the global environment, and establishing and mandating a response protocol would be a very, very good thing.


25 Years Ago Sally Ride Went to Orbit

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of NASA astronaut and physicist first trip into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle, making her the first American woman into space. It was on June 18th, 1983 that Ride and her five crew members rode the Space Shuttle Challenger into Earth orbit. In so doing she became an important role model for all of us, but especially for young girls with a passion for science and adventure. I remember reading about that shuttle mission in the newspaper and thinking that she was just about the coolest person on the planet.

“All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.”

Sally Ride – Retired U.S. Astronaut

Prior to becoming an astronaut, Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player. When asked about her professional tennis career she quipped:

“I was always very interested in science, and I knew that for me, science was a better long-term career than tennis.”

She was preceded into space as one of the first women by Soviet Kosmonauts Valentina Tereschkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. After inspiring an entire generation of women, she retired from NASA in 1987 and entered academia.

The Lonely Road of High Gas Prices

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Our little family is definitely feeling the pinch of higher gas prices, to the tune of a couple hundred dollars a month more than we were paying about a year ago. Yet, my wife and I are ok with this and are adjusting our lifestyle and schedule to allow us to drive less. We know that these high gas prices may be what it takes to change not only the habits of Americans as individuals, but of society at large. The net of that will be a very good thing. So we are beginning to drive much less, and be much more thoughtful in our destinations. We are clearly not alone.

A Department of Transportation study (via ) has revealed that in April of this year Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer miles on highways than they did in April of 2007, a 1.8% reduction. So far for 2008 Americans have driven 20 billion fewer miles than they did in 2007. What is interesting, though, is that while those numbers may sound large they are not yet a significant percentage reduction over 2007, though the April numbers continue a six month trend in declining miles travelled. I would anticipate that miles driven will continue to decline and while 1.8% may not seem like a large decline it is my guess that this is a trend that will continue for some time to come. If the high gas prices last as long as many are saying they will, those declines in driving may become permanent lifestyle changes.

CCTV Tower Update

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

As construction crews rush to complete the CCTV tower in Beijing the systems for using the building’s surface as a broadcast medium are beginning to be tested. It was intended from the beginning with the original that the skin of the tower would be active and dynamic. This video gives us an idea of what that will be like.


Asteroid Impact Modeling is Fun

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

That is a really big hole.

Fun for me on this Father’s Day where I was told to do whatever I wanted this afternoon. I did the right thing and began using the from Edward Gomez and Jon Yardley to create simulated asteroid impacts and measure the resulting destruction. The image above is the crater created by an asteroid made of iron and measuring 15,000 meters wide which impacted at 27 degrees in excess of 60km/second. That crater is over 1700 meters deep (that is the Empire State Building sitting in the center to provide some perspective).

I came across the Impact Calculator at .

Four Years in, Cassini Still Delivers Big

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Image via Cassini-Huygens

The robot explorer, written about here before, will hit the four year mark on June 30th in the relentless pursuit of its prime mission to explore Saturn and its many moons. After June 30th Cassini is operating in bonus territory, as it was not expected that the probe would last this long or work this well. They call this additional time the “extended mission”. Obviously, everyone is ecstatic as the Cassini mission has been profoundly successful in sending us back and images of Saturn (like the one above of Saturn’s rings), as well as the moons Titan, Enceladus, Dione, Tethys, Phoebe and Iapetus. In many ways the discoveries regarding Saturn’s moons has largely overshadowed the many, many findings with regards to Saturn itself.

Following the work of Cassini has been like following your favorite band on tour. Nearly every month the mission team has reported more incredible findings or provided another series of stunning images. This catalogs dozens of events and accomplishments. This year alone Cassini has scheduled over a dozen different flybys to allow the use of the craft’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UIS), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), and Radio Science Subsystem. Cassini is packed with gear, and it is not only amazing that it all is still working as planned, but that it made it there in the first place. Congratulations to the Cassini-Huygens mission team on the four year anniversary.

Direct Manipulation of Video

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I came across this video this morning and it got my attention. Video is coming on strong as an interaction media, and we are only at the very, very beginning of how we will be able to interact with video. The direct manipulation of video as a way to navigate opens up a whole host of possibilities.

The Power of Flow

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Mazda Furai, the manifestation of Nagare

I posted about the Mazda Furai concept, pictured above, back in January with regards to how it manifests Mazda’s Nagare, or “flow”, design language. Last week I came across a ton of content at the with regards to Mazda design and what Nagare means to the organization. Mazda views Nagare as the physical manifestation of their brand and brand heritage, and has put tremendous emphasis on Nagare as the foundation of a future looking design language for the company. Of particular note are the descriptions of Mazda’s design process and the admission by Mazda’s global head of design, , that to realize Nagare they had to break the golden rule of design, which is to simplify:

“Everybody will tell you to remove lines until you have no more left to remove. We are adding lines, which is kind of counter intuitive, but if we do it well it looks natural and creates beauty.”

Laurens van den Acker, General Manager Mazda Design

NASA Robotic Prototypes

Friday, June 13th, 2008

NASA Crew Mobility Prototype

NASA engineers have been busy testing for potential use on future missions to the moon and Mars. The engineers, in full astronaut gear, have been putting the machines through their paces on terrain at Moses Lake, Washington that approximates the mobility challenges of navigating the surface of the moon.

The robotic prototypes tested include the twelve wheeled robotic transport pictured above, as well as a six-legged all-terrain vehicle that can carry large payloads, an autonomous drilling rover and a mapping robot. There is an incredibly large and well-shot image gallery of the testing, and the various robotic vehicles, that is worth viewing. The public was invited to observe, which is further proof of the efforts that NASA is undertaking to engage the public and enlist their enthusiasm. NASA’s relatively recent adoption of social media as a way to create dialog with the public is an additional indicator of a changed view of the role of the public in space exploration.

Gas Prices? High? Think Again.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

International gas price comparison

Here in the United States we are definitely feeling the pain of higher gas prices, but that pain is only a result of our expectations being unreasonably set by unrealistically suppressed gas prices for… well, forever. The graph above compares the gas prices of several nations over the last year. The average price in the United States for a gallon of gasoline would be the bluish line at the bottom, the one far below the cluster of lines.

This perspective brought to you by our friends at .

Context Over Dogma

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

BMW GINA Light Visionary Model via BMW Design Group

is the sometimes controversial head of the global BMW Design Group, and he has worked tirelessly to move automobile design at BMW to a place where it can respond to both the demand for innovation and the needs of the user. He has put together a dream team of designers, engineers, and thinkers who challenge every convention of what an automobile is and how we use it. The most recent work from this team is the GINA Light Visionary Model pictured above. At the most base level, this dramatically effects the look of automobile design. At it’s most complex, it completely changes our relationship to this mode of transportation and brings out a level of emotion that I, personally, have not experienced in a very, very long time. I encourage you to watch this video presentation of the concept if you have any interest in the future of automobile design:

As far as I am concerned, GINA nails it by creating a seamless connection between form and function, by challenging every convention of automobile design, and by FINALLY bringing materials innovation to a point of influence that is beyond the shallowness of style. It is:

“Context over dogma.”

Chris Bangle – Head of BMW Design Group

Much more on this at , perhaps the best automotive blog I have yet experienced.

The Changing Landscape of Technology

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Georgia Institute of Technology Change in Technology Competitiveness 1993-2007

Click on the image above to enlarge the graph to make it more readable. It paints a picture that is probably not that surprising, but definitely attention grabbing. The United States faces a very different reality in the world today than it did toward the end of the 1990’s. Today we face a diverse spectrum of new players who are incredibly competitive, players who are in some cases much more disciplined, ambitious, and intensely focused on innovation. The elephant in the room is China which, again, is no surprise. China has been nothing but resurgent over the last decade and nothing tells that story as well as the graph above. China’s rise over the other 33 nations in the survey demonstrates a much changed world economic landscape in technology. Note also the ascendancy of Mexico, South Korea, India, Singapore, and Taiwan. We all owe of the NYT’s a small bit of deference on this matter.

The graph is the conducted bi-annually by the Georgia Institute of Technology that measures the technology standing of 33 countries based upon four key technology focused factors:

  1. National orientation toward technological competitiveness
  2. Socioeconomic infrastructure
  3. Technological infrastructure
  4. Productive capacity

From the intro to the Georgia Tech report on the study findings:

“…China may soon rival the United States as the principal driver of the world’s economy – a position the U.S. has held since the end of World War II. If that happens, it will mark the first time in nearly a century that two nations have competed for leadership as equals”

The Moon. It is Exploding.

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

The surface of the moon

Over the past two years astronomers at have observed over one hundred explosions on the moon’s surface. These explosions are the results of impacts by meteoroids and have measured as powerful as a few hundred pounds of TNT. It is no surprise that the moon suffers impacts, look at the image of the moon’s surface above. What is interesting is the observable frequency of these impacts in the last 24 months, which is quite a bit more intense than astronomers were expecting. This is an important phenomena for NASA to observe and understand as we get closer to the reality of a new effort to send astronauts to the moon and eventually set up a permanent lunar base. Essentially, there is no place on the moon that is impact free, nor is there a time that is less intense for impacts than others. The image below depicts the locations of the recorded impacts since initiation of the program:

map of moon impacts 2005-2008

The frequency and explosive power of these impacts pose a number of challenges to lunar astronauts, not so much from the risk of a direct hit but more from the risk of a secondary hit by one of the millions of particles that the explosions create and that shoot out from the impact area like bullets. A piece of debris 1 millimeter in diameter could penetrate an astronauts suit and damage equipment.

The first impact was recorded very shortly after the initiation of the moon impact observation program and recorded the strike of a meteoroid about the size of a baseball. Most of these impacts are the result of small meteoroids, some little bigger than a small rock or pebble, but they are traveling in excess of 30,000mph and hit the moon with incredibly violent force. A meteoroid the size of a pebble can create a crater several feet across.

More , and .

Bold Predictions: The End of Print Media

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

When the newstand becomes an antique…

Discussions around the demise of print continue to intensify. Just last week I posted some of my thoughts on this matter, motivated to do so by the confluence of increased speculation as to the future of printed media. Then, yesterday, BAM! Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, in an , speaks his mind on the issue when asked for his outlook on the future of media:

“In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.”

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft

Video of the Ballmer interview:

I am not one to follow closely the predictions and strategies of Ballmer, or Microsoft, but this statement made my jaw drop. Fact: Microsoft is a force in the future of whatever media becomes. Fact: Microsoft devotes tremendous resources out of its tremendous resources to guide this future in a way that benefits Microsoft. Fact: Steve Ballmer is closer to this issue, in many ways, than the rest of us as he is leading Microsoft’s strategy with regards to media. Does his opinion have merit? Most definitely. He even points out that it might be eight years or it might be 15 years, the timing doesn’t really matter as the reality is that the result is inevitable.

Then, this morning via Twitter I come across a that approaches the issue from a slightly different angle, that the demise in print media is also being driven by huge changes happening in journalism. Newsrooms are shrinking, news media subscriptions are collapsing, and increasingly reporters are getting their information and tips from public web forums. That would make the big news media companies middle men for the news, with the end result being that the public gets this and prefers going direct to the source. Leaders at media institutions like the New York Times are in total confusion as to what is happening and what will happen next, and the New York Times has actually been a vanguard in pursuing the online media channel. Ten years ago the public needed the resources provided by the Newsweeks, NYT’s, and the myriad other special interest publications. The printed manifestation of this resource was the only interaction option. Following the change in that interaction, from the reliance on the printed piece to the irrefutable dominance of the online channel, is an exercise in realizing how traditional media outlets have been inept at surveying strategic risk and changing with the times.