Category Archives: Tech

Asian Rail – High And Low Tech

China opened a 1140 km rail line through Tibet this week, one of the world’s most technically advanced trains. The train operates at altitudes of over 5,000 meters, as high as some jetliners fly. The cars offer UV protection and oxygen supplements for the thin air. The rail bed is also a marvel of high technology. Most of the route is over permafrost, a notoriously unstable foundation for construction. So the Chinese elevated long swaths of the track on bridges above the ground in the most troublesome areas, and installed cooling equipment in others to insure the ground stays frozen in the years ahead.

Of course this new train will bind the Tibetan plateau to the Chinese heartland, opening the region to development and possible assimilation. Tibetans around the world are concerned about the changes the railway will bring to their subjugated homeland, protesting and calling it a second invasion.

And before I forget, let me toss in a link about kayaking down the Yangtze, which sounds like a great adventure. They paddled in Yunnan, well upstream of the area that will be flooded by the recently completed Three Gorges Dam.

Meanwhile, sporadic rail service in the impoverished hinterlands of Cambodia has sparked a decidely low-tech solution; bamboo trains, little more than carts with small engines, are providing much needed transportation between towns in Cambodia’s second city of Battambang.

Smattering Of Science

Some interesting stories floating around on the internet lately:

  • Tomb of Xena uncovered in Peru – Archaeologists unearthed a Moche woman’s tomb in in northern Peru, revealing a rich trove of grave artifacts and weapons. Speculation abounds that she was a tattooed warrior woman, an unprecedented find in South American anthropology.
  • Three Gorges Dam set for completion – Well I guess I’ll never get to the the famed Three Gorges of the Yangtze. The dam is just about finished, with the last concrete being poured this weekend.
  • Solar system discovered – Astronomers located a solar system containing three rocky, medium sized planets. 3 planets the size of Neptune and an asteroid belt are orbiting the star HD69830, about 41 light years away in the constellation of Puppis. The furthest planet is in the habitable zone of the star, and could harbor liquid water.
  • Ancient Egyptian colonialism – In 1550 B.C., ancient Egypt conquered the kingdom of Nubia. A newly discovered cemetery revealed that Egypt absorbed Nubians into the imperial hierarchy. Several high status officials were buried in the cemetery, and most of them were local Nubians. They were uniters, not dividers.
  • Our muddled ancestry – So there was significant interbreeding between human and chimpanzee ancestors several million years ago. Maybe I am a monkey’s uncle.
  • AMD rolls out 64 bit, dual core laptop processor – I think my next computer will be powered by AMD. They are making some really powerful chips.
  • Real Time Satellite Tracking – This is cool, really cool. Coolest link here. Using Google Maps data, track satellites as they orbit overhead. Best fun is zoom in on hybrid mode and watch how fast the ISS space station hurtles across the landscape.
  • Worst president ever? – Finally, it’s not science related, but I was amazed by this quote in the Rolling Stone article:

    According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined.

    That just flabbergasts me. Can this be true? Holy guacamole, that’s a real accomplishment.

Freakin’ Sweet

I’ve been using Skype for months now as a replacement for my land line. And now it’s free to call land lines and cell phones within the United States and Canada. Cool! And of course PC to PC calls are still free. I was about to switch over to the Gizmo Project, another VoIP alternative to Skype, because their rates to call telephones in the US were half of Skype’s (1¢ per minute vs. roughly 2¢ per minute on Skype), but free is much, much better. Guess I’ll stick with Skype for right now.

Earth Week: Still More On Alternative Energy

Guam EPA Earth Week 2006 - Logo from CJ Santiago of GW High School

General Electric Buys Into Wave Power.

Yep, GE. They made an small $2.6 million investment in Ocean Power Delivery, developers of the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter. This nifty gizmo is currently being installed off the shore of Portugal, where it will deliver 750 kilowatts of electricity, the first of three planned for a 2.25 megawatt facility.

Maybe it’s time Guam looked into this technology again. It looks like this is actually a viable option for power generation, and Guam certainly has enough wave action. I’ve been thinking Guam should invest in wind power, but this is also an attractive option.

Software Theft Protection

Orbicule Software has come out with an intriguing piece of software for the Macintosh. Undercover is theft recovery software that tracks the location and habits of your laptop after thieves have absconded with the precious hardware. It takes screenshots of whatever the thief is doing and sends them, aong with the computer’s IP address, to you and law enforcement authorities, hopefully facilitating recovery of the laptop.

Even better is “Plan B” – after the recover efforts fail, Undercover simulates a hardware failure, prompting the thief to take the machine to an Apple dealer for repair. When the machine is plugged into the Apple dealer’s store, it alerts the store personnel that it is a stolen machine and that it needs to be returned to the rightful owner immediately to become usable again. It will even start shouting this message, demanding its return to all within earshot. How ridiculously cool is that?

More Housing

Happy Holidays! Sorry for the lapse in posting; Blogger has been quite nice to me lately and I’ve let my other web oriented things slide.

Anyways, here are a couple cool housing links:

  • EcoHouse Urca – a sustainable design/retrofit for a house in Rio de Janiero.
  • ehabitat – since I seem to be fascinated with prefab housing, here’s a cool design from Australia.

Test Textile

_Emphasis_ *Strong* and the ever popular “hyperlinked text”: among other abilities.

Well, it looks like “Textile”: is working. That was painless.

iMac Woes

I haven’t made much noise about it, but I went on a bender at Christmas, purchasing a couple Apple computers and an iPod. I’m writing this on my iBook G4, an excellent laptop that is quickly becoming indispensable to me. But I went a little crazy when I saw those beautiful iMac G5’s at the Apple Store in West County Shopping Mall at Christmas. It was easy to convince myself I need one; since my Dell PC was dead and my aging PowerMac G3 was on it’s last legs, I needed a new desktop computer. Why not go a little crazy and actually buy a new, worry free computer instead of my usual route of eBay castoffs and obsolete models. So I drank the Kool-Aid and bought a 20′ iMac G5.

Well, I started hearing rumors about how the iMac’s were prone to problems, overheating and bad power supplies being the most common. Sour grapes I thought. On Tuesday I was watching a bit of Quicktime video (no, not porno – the entire NOVA special The Elegant Universe is available online) when the iMac just switched itself off. Whump – game over man. Every attempt to turn it back on since then has been met with failure. It comes on for a couple seconds, starts the familar Apple ‘bong’ startup chord, then it stops. Tried Apple tech support chat, and it looks like I need a new midplane (logic board) or maybe a power supply.

You know, I just realized I never posted this story about the iMac G5. Well, the short story is – I got it working again, though it took several months. It was the power supply, and it only took about three days to fix. Regrettably I waited from April until August to get the computer repaired. Thankfully it was still under warrranty. In fact, just about the time I took it into the Apple Store in St. Louis, I got an email announcing the extension of the warranty program for the iMac G5 because of problems with the power supplies.

Why did I wait so long to get this computer, my pride and joy, repaired? Because I wasn’t about to pay to FedEx the computer back to the States for repairs. I checked it as luggage when I went back in August for a family wedding. So let this be a lesson to Guamanians that want a Macintosh; be prepared for troubles when the machine breaks.

WordPress Good, Blogger Bad

That pretty much sums it up. Blogger continues to choke and sputter over at my other site. I think the time has come to abandon Blogger and move entirely to WordPress. Breaking up is hard to do, but I think it’s for the best.