July 17, 2009

And that's the way it is.

Walter Cronkite, November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009

GE wants to enable zero-energy housing

General Electric has been pursuing the smart grid for some time—a networked power grid that allows households and appliances to communicate with utilities to help match the houses' peak demand to the available power. Now, GE has announced that its smart grid efforts are part of a larger vision: a home's worth of smart appliances that derive power from the house's own solar panels, all tied together by an energy management device that puts control in the hands of the user. GE plans to sell the whole setup as a package to housing developers, and speculates it will be available as early as 2015.
ars technica

'Willis Tower' name will live in shadow of 'Sears Tower'

First came the puzzled looks. Then the confused glances. And finally the questions.

"You mean the Sears Tower?"

On the day that the nation's tallest building was officially renamed Willis Tower, at least a few Chicagoans were still in the dark -- or, at the least, denial -- about the skyscraper's new identity. Residents, visitor guides and even some taxi drivers responded with blank stares when asked for directions to the Willis Tower.

"We don't have Willis Tower. There is no Willis Tower here," said Momansor Hassan, 43, a cabdriver for 19 years.

Not until Thursday, that is. The new signs and flags outside the 1,450-foot skyscraper were hard to dismiss as crowds gathered to witness the building's first day as Willis. The skyscraper, which opened in 1973 as the then-world's-tallest building, was named after Sears Roebuck and Co. It remained Sears Tower even after Sears relocated to Hoffman Estates in 1992.

Chicago Tribune

July 16, 2009

Black Swan

"Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ….I shiver at the thought."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (April 2007)

Boris Artzybasheff

"In his commercial work he explored grotesque experiments in anthropomorphism, where toiling machines displayed distinctly human personalities."

Here are a couple of great galleries from Golden Age Comic Book Stories and GoofButton.Com.

Moon landing tapes got erased, NASA admits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The original recordings of the first humans landing on the moon 40 years ago were erased and re-used, but newly restored copies of the original broadcast look even better, NASA officials said on Thursday.

NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that clarifies the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon.

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, will be released in September. The preview is available at www.nasa.gov.

NASA admitted in 2006 that no one could find the original video recordings of the July 20, 1969, landing.

Since then, Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who oversaw television processing at the ground-tracking sites during the Apollo 11 mission, has been looking for them.

The good news is he found where they went. The bad news is they were part of a batch of 200,000 tapes that were degaussed -- magnetically erased -- and re-used to save money.

"The goal was live TV," Nafzger told a news conference.

"We should have had a historian running around saying 'I don't care if you are ever going to use them -- we are going to keep them'," he said.

They found good copies in the archives of CBS news and some recordings called kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson Space Center.

Lowry, best known for restoring old Hollywood films, has been digitizing these along with some other bits and pieces to make a new rendering of the original landing.

Nafzger does not worry that using a Hollywood-based company might fuel the fire of conspiracy theorists who believe the entire lunar program that landed people on the moon six times between 1969 and 1972 was staged on a movie set or secret military base.

"This company is restoring historic video. It mattered not to me where the company was from," Nafzger said.

"The conspiracy theorists are going to believe what they are going to believe," added Lowry Digital Chief Operating Officer Mike Inchalik.

And there may be some unofficial copies of the original broadcast out there somewhere that were taken from a NASA video switching center in Sydney, Australia, the space agency said. Nafzger said someone else in Sydney made recordings too.

"These tapes are not in the system," Nafzger said. "We are certainly open to finding them."

Restored videos at nasa.gov

July 15, 2009

Upcoming Military Robot Could Feed on Dead Bodies

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.'s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that's right, "EATR" — "can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable," reads the company's Web site.
Fox News
Thanks, Jonathan


"The problem I am confronting is the present design of cities only a few stories high, stretching outward in unwieldy sprawl for miles. As a result of their sprawl, they literally transform the earth, turn farms into parking lots and waste enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods and services over their expanses. My solution is urban implosion rather than explosion."
Paolo Soleri

Giant Model Railroad Is an Analog SimCity

Before SimCity — even before Dungeons and Dragons — back when “computer” was a job title, people still found ways to vaporize countless hours of free time designing and maintaining private universes. In the analog world, such parallel realities were built with tweezers, glue and a spouse’s permission to cover the basement with papier-mâché massifs and plywood plains.

Though it’s located just a short drive from the company that launched SimCity and Spore, the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society has stuck by these venerable techniques and still makes believe the old-fashioned way. Members operate one of the largest, exclusively HO scale train lines in the United States and have conducted at their current location since 1974.

The society’s control systems are a steampunk fantasy: a roomful of vintage 1930s magnetic relays once used to route phone calls, clacking like mechanical dominoes with every move the amateur engineers make. A full complement of 30 members can run 10 individual trains simultaneously on the layout, though only a dozen or so are required for basic operation.